01.Josh and the finance sector raiders
Attack on workers’ super
Hot on the heels of a Productivity Commission (PC) Inquiry into the efficiency and competitiveness of superannuation, the government has now announced a review of retirement incomes. This review will look at superannuation, the age pension and private (voluntary) savings including the family home, aged-care funding and franking credits. It is to examine the “facts”, not to make recommendations.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the finance sector are on the offensive, with the aim of destroying industry super funds, privatising the sector, and removing as many people as possible off the age pension. This latest review will be another step in the preparations for the next round of changes to age pensions and superannuation.
At stake is the management of $1.9 trillion in superannuation savings with the billions of dollars in tax rorts for wealthy untouched.
The inquiry will be led by a former Treasury official Michael Callaghan alongside Carolyn Kay, a member of the Future Fund, and Deborah Ralston, chair of the Self Managed Super Fund Association.
Ralston has previously raised the question of whether superannuation contributions should be compulsory for those on low incomes. She also led the Alliance campaigning against Labor’s franking credits policy during the elections. Her appointment is highly controversial. There is no one representing members of industry funds.
Under the original superannuation contribution schedule introduced by Labor, the compulsory employer contribution should have reached 12 percent by 2019. But the Abbott government, after two small increases in 2013 and 2014, froze the rate at 9.5 percent, using legislation. The legislation also provides for annual increases of 0.5 percent from July 1, 2021 until it reaches 12 percent in 2025.
The PC report, publicly released in January this year, recommended a number of measures to rule out the specification of particular funds in industrial awards for workers, based on an industry or occupation, and turns retail funds into default funds for new members.
The PC’s recommendation that this latest inquiry be held before the next increase in the compulsory superannuation guarantee (CSG) is due, suggests that it expects that the increase will either not go ahead or will be reduced/delayed.
None-the-less, the government says it has no plans to further delay the legislated increases to the CSG rate. It also says it will not increase the pension age or include the family home in the pension assets test.
The CSG has always been a target of the Coalition and the employers as have the industry funds that are governed by boards with equal representation of employer and trade union reps and an independent chair. These funds, since their establishment in the 1980s and early 1990s, have always outperformed the private funds run by the finance sector, known as retail funds.
Judging by the terms of reference and composition of the “independent” panel, workers have a great deal to be concerned about. The government has continuously rolled back eligibility for the age pension that is hardly enough to live a life with dignity.
Possible recommendations coming from this review include:
Tougher eligibility requirements and cuts to the pension itself, especially for people who own their own homes or have any savings
Forcing pensioners to draw on the assets in their family home by such means as negative mortgages
Abolishing the compulsory nature of the scheme, in particular for low income workers
The cashless card is looming high on the agenda, with age pensioners in line.
In 2016-17 the average savings for males in pension funds was $146,420 and for females it was $114,350. Such amounts are nowhere near enough to provide a constant stream of income in retirement.
Many self-funded retirees have been hit hard by low interest rates. They might be “asset rich but income poor” and so fail the assets test. There are also retirees with savings where the government deems them to be receiving a much higher interest rate than they are. This affects the tax they pay and also the income test.
There are many problems and contradictions within the existing system and the interaction of the various rules affecting the age pension, super, aged care and savings. Privatisation and lack of universality of the age pension contribute to this situation.
Going back to the Whitlam government, the aim was for a universal national scheme with a uniform rate of payments, funded by workers according to the income. Unfortunately this never materialised as a coup in 1975 saw the defeat of his government.
When the CSG scheme was introduced it had a number of aims:
Enable the centrally funded, public age pension to be wound back and eventually abolished with super providing retirement income
Create a large pool of investment capital for the finance sector to manage and so increase its power and profits
To meet an ideological agenda based on the neo-liberal concepts of “self-provision”, “small government”, and privatisation
Kill off the concept that the age pension as a right.
The Communist Party of Australia believes all Australians have a right to retire with dignity with adequate income as well as services to meet their needs for a comfortable lifestyle regardless of their previous work history. For women and disadvantage people, in particular, this right is paramount.
This necessitates a universal age pension which is centrally funded by the government.
The CPA also proposes that a national superannuation fund be established that workers may contribute to on a voluntary basis. This would be publicly run on a democratic basis without hefty, hidden fees and provide a source of additional income for those who wish it.
The Review is set to report by June 2020.
The economic rationalists are doing more than just trying to remove barriers to transnational operations, or reduce the size of government. When they talk about “handing everything over to the markets” they are talking about handing over government policy making and political power and all public enterprises to the naked dictatorship of the big corporations whether national or foreign enterprises.
The Australian government never hesitates in preaching the values of Western democracy and how Australia is an outstanding example. We regularly elect governments in “free and fair” elections and our Westminster-style parliamentary system is relatively open to scrutiny.
Australia’s parliamentary system has many shortcomings, but at least legislation was usually public before it was passed and trade unions, consumer, environmental, health, education, and other groups and individuals had an opportunity to express their views and to lobby and campaign for changes. This is now not the case.
Billions are handed over in corporate welfare.
The federal government pays a fossil fuel subsidy of more than $10 billion per annum. The private health insurance companies receive a direct subsidy of more than $6 billion per annum in the form of the PHI (private health insurance) rebate (30-40 percent) of cost of premiums. This indirectly subsidises the private hospitals and other private health services.
The only corporate subsidies being axed are the ones that seek to address climate change.
There is a tax emergency – which needs urgent addressing before the whole taxation base collapses.
Workers are not only carrying an increased income tax burden, but paying the GST which has been rising as a proportion of national income. On top of that, the government is using the short-fall in taxation as an excuse for its austerity measures and continuing to cut the company tax rate.
Instead of spending cuts – which have such devastating consequences for the most vulnerable people – the need is for focus on progressive reforms to the tax system so that the corporate sector pay a larger share. This would overnight result in a large budget surplus, and not a shortage of funds for people’s needs.
These reforms should include repeal of the fossil fuel rebate, ending the PHI rebate, an increase in company tax rates and marginal rates on higher incomes. It is time mining companies funded their own infrastructure. Huge savings could be made by slashing the military budget which is headed towards $1 trillion.
The personal income tax system, despite its shortcomings, is more progressive, with those on higher incomes paying a higher rate in the dollar once their income reaches certain thresholds. The GST is an unfair tax that shifts the tax burden onto those least able to pay and lets the corporate sector completely off the hook. Not surprisingly big business is keen to slash company tax rates and increase the GST.
The GST should be abolished. Company tax and the marginal rates on higher incomes should be increased. At the same time billions could be raised to meet social needs by slashing corporate welfare and closing the loopholes that allow highly profitable transnational corporations to pay peanuts or no tax at all. There is absolutely no economic justification for balancing budgets and swelling corporate profits at the expense of the people.
As professor Pietro Guj of the University of Western Australia, who has been an advisor to that state’s government, put it: “A company has the right to conduct business wherever it chooses.” Big business knows no borders, recognises no sovereignty.
It was in 2005 that the Singapore government registered a new company called BHP Billiton AG Singapore Branch. It was given a special Pioneer Service Company status, which meant it would pay no income tax until 2020. Its Singapore tax-free profit is then sent to Switzerland. BHP Switzerland then pays 2.5 percent tax. The remaining profit is then paid as dividends to BHP Netherlands and considered tax free. This ruse is called duel-listed companies which function as two separate companies subject to two different tax authorities.
The concept of a workers’ social club in Darwin has been around for more than a century. As early as 1914, a story appeared in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette about the establishment of a “Darwin Worker’s Amusement Club,” to be built on land annexed by the Administrator of the Northern Territory.
Thirty years later, this idea finally came to fruition when the North Australian Workers’ Union formally established a Darwin Workers’ Club with premises on Cavenagh Street. The land was granted to the NAWU in 1946 by the Royal Australian Navy. The purpose of the club expanded beyond hosting social activities to functioning as a broader community organisation, which included hosting sporting events, boxing matches, blood drives and Christmas celebrations for member’s children. In the words of Ernie Williams, a founding member of the original club:
“Because of the lack of social recreation, workers after their laborious toil in the heat take to ‘the grog’ in an effort to overcome the monotony. The purpose of the club would be to divert their energy into other channels, to make the workers of Darwin more healthy in body, keener in mind, and comparatively sober in habit.”
Many accounts indicate that the Darwin Workers’ Club of the 1940s to the 1970s was a centrepiece of social life in post-war Darwin.
Interestingly, during this time ASIO was monitoring the membership of the club for communist agitators. At the time, the federal government agency viewed it as an “organising centre” for the communist party, according to files released in 1984.
In the 1970s, the club ran into financial difficulty due to a series of factors, not the least of which was the damage incurred by Cyclone Tracy. It nonetheless continued to operate in a diminished capacity. The Club was redeveloped in 1981 and amalgamated with the newly established Public Service Club, which operated a separate tenancy on the same property.
Unfortunately, the amalgamation did not pan out and the club incurred significant debt in the mid 1980’s and was subsequently closed in 1987.
To match the personality of the original Darwin Workers’ Club would be a tough task. Current Committee members are well aware that the sporting, social and drinking habits of workers have changed since the hey-day of the organisation from the 1940s to 1970s. While the concept of a mixed sporting and social club with annexed hostels and shops is an attractive prospect, it would be very difficult to run such an organisation profitably.
Instead the committee seeks to establish a smaller, member-driven social club. Our aim is to provide a place for workers to enjoy a cheap beer at knock-off time without the onerous restrictions on work attire common in other establishments, and to create a reputable live music venue in the city for local bands.
We rely on the generosity of sponsors and donors such as yourself to resurrect the important institution that Darwin Workers’ Club provided in Darwin.
closing more branches
The ANZ Bank is closing more branches in Victoria and South Australia in a move that will inconvenience customers and result in bank workers being made redundant.
ANZ branches at Gladstone Park and Endeavour Hills will close in November this year, at the same time as Burnside in South Australia, and branches at Castlemaine and Foster will close in March 2020.
A total of 30 staff will be affected by the closures, along with customers and communities.
Finance Sector Union (FSU) local executive secretary (Vic/Tas) David Scanlon said that ANZ had closed 33 branches around Australia in the past year.
“The major banks all hide behind the excuse that the numbers of customers using the branch has fallen because they are moving to internet banking but we know that’s just a fairy tale,” Scanlon said.
“The real reason the banks close branches is because the branch is not generating enough profits for the bank,” he said.
“It is a disgrace that the ANZ is blaming customers for its decision to shut branches.”
Scanlon said it was time the banks understood the impact on customers and local communities when they deserted towns and suburbs.
“The ANZ is dumping these communities and walking away from its customers and staff because it has chosen to put profits before people.”
Instead of closing branches, the FSU is calling on the ANZ Bank to properly consult with its workers and communities about the future of its branch network before making decisions to abandon communities.
“The Australian Bankers’ Association Protocol on branch closures should require banks to consult with local communities when deciding on the future of their branch networks. In most cases, no community consultation is being conducted.”
Remarks by HE Ambassador Cheng Jingye at the Reception to Celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China – September 23, 2019.
Good afternoon! It’s a great delight to have you with us today to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Seventy years ago, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in changing the destiny of the Chinese people, heralded a new epoch in Chinese history.
Over the past 70 years, under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the entire Chinese people, through their hardworking and tireless endeavours, have created a development miracle in human history, resulting in unprecedented changes and epic accomplishments.
We have established socialist system, carried out spectacular reform and opening up, and embarked on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
We resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macao and have advanced the cause of peaceful reunification of the country.
We have achieved a historic leap in the composite national strength. China’s GDP has increased by more than 450 times in terms of US dollars, with our economy now accounting for about 16 percent of the world GDP. Being the second largest economy in the world, China enjoys a leading position in terms of trade in goods, manufacturing capacity and foreign exchange reserves.
We built 140,000 kilometres of highways, the mileage of our high-speed railways comprises two-thirds of the world’s total, and among top ten seaports in the world there are seven in China. The urbanisation rate has increased from 10 percent to nearly 60 percent.
We have remarkably improved people’s living standards. Over 750 million people were lifted out of poverty since 1978. The per capita GDP is now close to 10,000 US dollars. Average life expectancy has been extended from 35 to 77. We have established the world’s largest social security system covering pension, medicare, basic living insurance and proper housing.
The illiteracy rate has dropped from 80 percent to around 5 percent, and last year’s university graduates numbered 8.2 million. China now has the largest middle-income population and the fastest-growing consumer market in the world. Last year, nearly 150 million people travelled abroad.
We have made outstanding progress in science and technology. China has become a major scientific and technological player, with R&D expenditure ranking second in the world. China also ranks second in terms of the number of scientific papers cited and the number of international patent applications.
The contribution of scientific and technological progress to economic growth in 2018 reaches 58.5 percent. Achievements such as the manned spaceflight, lunar exploration project, BeiDou navigation satellite system, quantum science and AI have captured the world’s attention. China also leads in 5G technology development.
We have achieved major results in green development. China’s total installed capacity of renewable energy accounts for 28 percent of the world’s total. It is the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels and wind turbines. Non-fossil energy accounts for 13.8 percent of primary energy. We have 1.7 million electric vehicles – half of the world’s total. With the largest plantation forest in the world, the forest stocks have increased by 2.1 billion cubic metres.
Over the past seven decades China has made significant contributions to world’s peace and prosperity. We have played an important role in promoting resolution to global and regional hot issues. We are the second largest financial contributor to the United Nations and the largest peacekeeping personnel contributor among the permanent members of the Security Council. In the past decade, China has contributed nearly 30 percent of world economic growth.
We have promoted global connectivity and infrastructure building through the Belt and Road Initiative, which has become a widely participated platform for international cooperation. China has been actively engaged in global cooperation on climate change, playing a leading role in the conclusion of Paris Agreement. From 1950 to 2016, a total of more than 400 billion yuan of foreign aid was provided, with more than 5,000 projects.
It has been 70 years of dedication and commitment and 70 years of miraculous achievements. As a result, the Chinese people have taken a decisive step in the journey towards becoming richer and stronger. We are now closer than ever before in achieving national rejuvenation.
Today’s China has entered a new era. At present, the Chinese people are striving to achieve the “Two Centenary Goals” with full confidence. Next year, we will accomplish the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects. By the middle of this century, we’ll develop China into a great modern socialist country.
China stays committed to peaceful development and building a community with a shared future for mankind. China will promote a high level of opening up to the outside world, in pursuing mutual benefit and win-win outcomes.
In short, it will continue its efforts in building world peace, contributing to global development, and upholding international order. China’s sustainable development will bring more opportunities to countries around the world.
China-Australia relationship to some extent is an epitome of the deep integration of China with the world. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1972, cut-across progress has been made in the bilateral relations. The trade volume between the two countries has soared from less than 100 million US dollars to over 150 billion US dollars.
People-to-people exchanges have started from scratch, with current annual visits in both directions surpassing two million. The development of China-Australia relations has significantly enhanced the well-being of both peoples. As Prime Minister Morrison said, “China is more than a customer, way more”.
China and Australia are important countries in the Asia-Pacific region. There is no historical grievance or conflict in fundamental interests between the two countries. Instead, our economies are highly complementary, with many shared interests and huge potential for cooperation.
We both stand for multilateralism and free trade, and support open global economy. The 1.2 million Chinese-Australians serve as an indispensable bridge and bond between the two countries. There is every reason to maintain the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in good shape but no excuse to have the relations hindered or damaged.
China always believes that a sound and stable China-Australia relationship serves the fundamental interests of both sides and is conducive to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region.
Both sides need to view each other’s development path and social system in a rational way. It’s essential to stick to mutual respect and properly handle the differences. We need to regard each other’s development as an opportunity rather than a threat, so that mutual trust will be persistently increased, and suspicion or prejudices be reduced.
We should expand mutually beneficial cooperation, fostering a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment for each other’s enterprises. We need to deepen people-to-people links rather than erecting artificial barriers.
It’s also important that we work together to uphold multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core, while jointly advancing regional economic integration.
It’s sincerely hoped that both countries will pull efforts in the same direction and take positive steps to overcome the difficulties, so as to push forward China-Australia relations along the right track.
In conclusion, may I propose a further toast:
To the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China;
To the healthy and stable development of China-Australia relations;
Statement by ACTU President Michele O’Neil to the Senate Inquiry on Ensuring Integrity – September 23.
Thank you to the Committee for the opportunity to appear today.
This so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill is an attack on the basic rights of all working people in Australia to join, run and be represented by the union of their choice.
An attack on unions is an attack on all working people.
This law will undermine workplace safety, increase wage and superannuation theft and make it harder for workers to get pay increases and be represented when they need help.
This Bill introduces harsher and more rigorous standards than on any other organisation in society, including corporations, charities and incorporated associations.
There is no equivalent to this bill anywhere in the western world. As a democracy develops and as an economy develops, you usually see that freedom of association for workers improves. This bill bucks that trend.
Let’s put this bill in context.
Nearly half of the workers in Australia are in insecure work.
We are currently experiencing the longest period of low wage growth since the end of World War II. In the June quarter of 2019 wages had only grown by 2.3 percent. Workers share of national income in Australia is at close to a 60-year low. Half of all new jobs in our economy are second jobs, and people working two jobs in our country earn less than those working one.
And more than a million people working part-time can’t get enough hours.
There is a crisis of wage theft, with high profile cases such as George Colambaris, 7/11 and Caltex just a few of the examples of a practice too wide-spread to properly quantify. And one in three workers – around 2.85 million people – are being ripped off by almost $6 billion in superannuation a year. Worksites continue to be plagued with health and safety issues. 111 Australian workers have been killed at work in 2019 alone.
And it’s getting harder and harder for workers to bargain collectively to improve on their pay and conditions. Enterprise bargaining is falling, and as at May 2018, only 37.9 percent of employees are covered by any kind of enterprise agreement.
Workers relying on minimum award coverage has risen from 15.2 percent in 2010 to 20.9 percent in 2018. That’s 5.7 percentage points in less than a decade. Not only is this government doing nothing substantive to address these issues, by persisting with this short-sighted, ideological, obsessive attack on the union movement they are in fact going to make things worse.
The Committee has already heard expert evidence from economists Dr Quiggan and Dr Stanford that if this bill is passed there will be lower wage growth, more unsafe workplaces and fewer rights for working people. Meanwhile, there is no Ensuring Integrity Bill for banks. There is no Ensuring Integrity Bill for politicians.
This Bill is so extreme in its overreach and capacity to harm the good work that unions do, so blatantly opportunistic and politically motivated, and so ill-suited to the purpose that it claims to pursue, that it cannot be salvaged. To use an analogy – this requires a demolition job, not a renovation job.
The Bill will make Australia unique in industrialised liberal democracies globally in the draconian measures that it imposes. We are not taken in by the rhetoric – this is neither a measured nor an incremental piece of legislation.
Our submission goes into extensive detail on the ACTU’s concerns about each of the schedules of the Bill, but I want to highlight just a few of these now. Firstly, the concept of a designated finding or a designated law – which underpins every aspect of the Bill – is far too broadly defined.
A finding against particular officers, a small class of members, or a part of an organisation, can in various ways be counted against the whole of the organisation, such that “the many will be punished for the crimes of a few”.
The finding can relate to a minor or technical breach – despite what the government says, there is no requirement for the finding to relate to a serious offence or contravention.
The breaches themselves already carry with them civil and criminal sanctions to which the harsh consequences introduced by this legislation will be added. And the finding can provide a ground for one of several orders regardless of the views of members, the best interests of members, or the ability of the officer, organisation or amalgamation under scrutiny to serve those interests.
Secondly, and relatedly, the Bill sets a very low bar to establish a ground for the most extreme sanctions – disqualification or deregistration. The government claims that the Bill is intended to deal with unions and union officers who repeatedly break the law. This claim does not match the reality of the Bill.
The grounds for disqualification and deregistration in the Bill do not require repeated unlawful conduct. They are not reserved to be a last resort option. The grounds either do not require a judicial finding of unlawful conduct at all, or require only one or two such findings.
The bar to establish a ground to trigger the Court’s discretion to impose these very serious sanctions – in addition to the range of civil and criminal sanctions already in place – is set very low.
None of the grounds for disqualification or deregistration require the conduct to be “serious”, “deliberate”, “knowing”, “wilful”, “repeated”, “persistent” or “systematic”.
The Royal Commission recommended against any changes to the existing deregistration provisions, in part because there are already several grounds on which an application can be made under the existing Act, and in part for the obvious reason that “Cancelling the registration of the whole union may have a disproportionate effect on union members who have not been involved in illegal activity”.
Thirdly, the Bill imposes more onerous standards on unions and union officers than are imposed on companies and company directors.
The disqualification regime for union officers in the Registered Organisations Act already extends further than the regime for company directors in the Corporations Act by the inclusion of violence, damage or destruction of property. Company directors can be disqualified for the narrower criteria of criminal and certain civil contraventions of the Corporations Act.
The Explanatory Memorandum for the Bill relies on a finding of the Royal Commission that an officer of a registered organisation could not be disqualified for a contravention of their statutory duties, but completely fails to mention that the Registered Organisations Act was already amended to address this, back in 2016.
Union officers can already be disqualified for criminal and all civil contraventions of the Registered Organisations Act.
Under the Bill, union officers will now also be disqualified for contraventions of industrial laws and work health and safety laws. The same standard does not apply for company directors who cannot be disqualified even if they endanger workers’ lives, steal workers’ wages, or deliberately obstruct a union officer exercising their right of entry to investigate a safety issue or underpayment.
Unlike this Bill’s effect on unions no direct mechanism exists for a corporation to be wound up, placed under administration or have a merger refused due to non-compliance with law by the company, its directors or its members.
The amendments to the amalgamation process in the Bill as originally introduced in 2017 was self-evidently targeted at the political purpose of preventing the CFMEU, MUA and TCFUA amalgamation and it is shameful that the government has continued the charade of these amendments have any legitimacy at all by keeping them in the 2019 Bill.
Disturbingly, there is no limit on retrospectivity in the application of the amendments to administration or amalgamations. The government has offered no justification for this departure from one of the most fundamental principles of good law making.
Make no mistake, the Bill is designed to target all unions. Unions are already highly regulated and have to deal with the weight of a significant compliance burden. Highly complex and technical legal rules govern right of entry, bargaining, and industrial action. This Bill makes the consequences for a mistake or a minor breach so much greater.
Knowing that the employer can bring one of these applications and use it as leverage if you get it wrong will have a chilling effect and change the power dynamic between workers and employers. This would still be true even if standing was limited to the regulator, because the Bill makes the consequences for getting it wrong so extreme, and because standing to bring proceedings in relation to the types of contraventions that lead to designated findings is not limited to the regulator.
So, an employer can bring an application in relation to unprotected industrial action, for example, and findings in that application can potentially then lead to ground applications for disqualification, deregistration, an alternative order, administration or to block an amalgamation.
Disturbingly, under the Bill, a ground for deregistration, an alternative order, or an administrative scheme will exist where the affairs of the organisation are conducted in a manner that discriminates between a member or members or is contrary to the interests of a part of the membership.
The Committee has already heard evidence of the kinds of decisions that unions have to make on a daily basis that balance competing interests between members or classes or members or parts of the union. The broad grounds, which set such a low bar to bring an application, combined with the broad standing provisions, will see union resources diverted from advancing and protecting their members’ interests to defending litigation.
The Committee has already heard expert evidence on the negative impact this will have on the continuing problems of wage stagnation, wage theft, worker exploitation and unsafe work practices.
The ACTU urges the Senate to reject the Ensuring Integrity Bill in its entirety. We are happy to answer any questions.
“Men at Work” by Annabel Crabb
I began reading Annabel Crabb’s Quarterly Essay “Men at Work” with rather low expectations whilst trying hard to keep an open mind. My view of Crabb has always been that she is a sycophant, cosying up to Canberra powerbrokers to further her career, presenting basic liberal technocratic political analysis without ever explicitly giving her opinion on things. Her goal as a journalist has always been to humanise our political elite, contributing to the Americanisation of our democratic process by focussing heavily on personality and style over any form of substance.
Her ABC show Kitchen Cabinet is the most hideous example of this where she made a curry with PM Scott Morrison, fawning over him when he talks of his devotion to family, never even questioning him over his treatment of other people’s families suffering under his fascistic immigration policies, or budgets that delivered tax cuts to the wealthy at the expense of the already disadvantaged.
Despite this, Crabb’s essay exploring Australian working culture and its expectations on male parents did manage to provide a couple of interesting insights.
Even with improved access and offerings of paid parental leave, men are still reluctant to take time off when their partner gives birth, and the number of men acting as primary carer of their child has risen from four percent to just five percent in over 20 years.
Canada and The Netherlands have managed to implement policies that have successfully encouraged men to take more parental leave by basically offering free money that if not taken by the man, would be lost.
Australian workplaces and the legal system still view men’s right to access flexible workplace arrangements as a luxury, or something that must be “earned” with years of strong performance and relationships, whereas for women it is a given in theory if not always in practice.
The third point listed above is the one I found most interesting but it’s also completely unsurprising. Take a cursory look around any workplace and you will find at least a few women working part time or with highly flexible schedules to accommodate childcare or other family commitments, it’s banal.
I struggled to think of even one man, from my various places of employment over the last 11 years, who has worked part time or flexibly, by choice. It could be that I have often found myself in female dominated organisations, but these places have also tended to offer quite generous leave and flexibility arrangements where I would not anticipate the same cultural barriers to men working flexibly or on reduced hours that they face within corporate hierarchies.
Crabb provides some examples of men who simply couldn’t comprehend the idea of working flexibly or part time, not because of financial need or workplace policies, but because their identity is so closely tied with their occupation, with their place within this capitalist system.
This idea of an occupation or position within a company serving as a man’s sense of identity is one I wish was interrogated in further detail because it really goes to the heart of the matter. Workplaces are increasingly offering up better opportunities for parental leave and flexible work arrangements for men, and men are wanting to be more involved in the care of their children especially in the early months and years, but men’s identity comes from the work they do and their perception as being a provider and hard worker which prevents them from taking the leap. What conditions exist within our society that make a man’s job description so vital to his sense of who he is?
Under capitalism, and especially within the recent period of neoliberalism masculine ideals have become detached from family, friends and community, becoming a narrow identity of worker and provider. As we move into the late stages of capitalism with ever-increasing alienation, women still produce children, whereas for men capital is what they make and in turn what makes them.
Women now represent almost half of the Australian labour force (47 percent) and I would hypothesise that this has had an impact on men’s sense of their place and identity as providers for their family and community. When women go on maternity leave to assume their more “traditional” role as primary carer of the family, men are able to re-assert their place as financial provider, being responsible for the safety and security of his household.
I can see why men are loathe to give up this feeling in order to go on parental leave, they would be in a way giving up the thing that is just theirs, at least for a short time. Crabb gives an example of this in her essay, a man who did not want to take on the primary carer role for his newborn even though it would have been a more rational financial decision because he had “worked hard to get where he was” and didn’t want to give that up because it was important for his self-esteem etc.
These cultural norms would be almost impossible to overthrow under a capitalist system which relies on both men and women putting such importance on their individual role within a company, rather than as a worker and member of the proletariat. On this issue of identity Crabb had little to offer as a solution, and changes to our sense of identity alone are not going to bring about gender equity or change the way we raise our children. So how should we raise our children?
Crabb points to some well implemented social democratic policies of Europe and Canada that have managed to rapidly increase the number of men who take extended leave or move to part-time work to supplement their partner’s maternity leave. This is progress of a sort. While the nuclear family remains the dominant economic unit it’s important to try and make sure the burden of child rearing, housework and paid labour is shared equally, however this is still an individualistic and liberal approach to childcare and its importance in society.
The liberal approach favours the capitalist class and the petty bourgeois by making each individual family solely responsible for the health and wellbeing of our next generations. Viewing it this way creates competition for resources, funding and access which leads to resentment between fellow working-class families, benefiting those who seek to divide us.
Related to this, Crabb highlighted an example of a male blue-collar worker in Sydney’s Western suburbs, who expressed resentment and anger at the thought of his tax dollars going to a high earning female lawyer from the North Shore for maternity leave. This example perfectly illustrates the entirely predictable outcomes of liberal, means-tested policy implementation to benefit individual families as opposed to universal state provisions that benefit the collective society.
Engels predicted long ago that the nuclear family as the main social and economic unit would wither away under socialism. Kollontai in 1920, further explained that the nuclear family would no longer be a necessity for the raising of the next generations as it would be the State’s responsibility to care for children, allowing adults to focus on work, leisure and their relationships.
The responsibility for the children would fit in around all work and social commitments leading to a happier population. The Soviet Union put in place an array of programs to shift the burden for child rearing away from mothers and the nuclear family, to become a shared responsibility with the state providing nurseries for young children, providing food, childcare, early education at little to no cost.
Similar policies exist in Cuba today with universal childcare from 12 months old, weekly nurse home visits pre and post birth. The Cuban state have made it a high priority to ensure all children have access to healthy food and environments and have implemented programs to develop and nurture all children within their first 1,000 days, which has been identified as a key developmental stage. This program has been extremely successful with 99.5 percent of all Cuban children attending nursery, with over 90 percent of Cuban children meeting or exceeding all development indicators at the 12-month mark.
I would never expect Crabb to offer up socialist examples of the Soviet Union or Cuba to contrast with Australia’s current attitude to child rearing, and I have ventured somewhat from my original intention of looking at cultural attitudes that prevent men from taking parental leave when their children are born, but I think the examples are relevant.
As I’ve discussed above, Australian men have so much of their sense of self, their identity, tied to their occupation and the way they are perceived within their workplace. This is a natural outcome of living in an individualistic capitalist society. However if we were to propose a universal policy such as a 30-hour work week (or less), this would firstly allow men and women alike to spend more time at home with their children, secondly it would not single out new parents and result in the perception of “slacking off” that men named as a reason for not taking parental leave or working flexibly. Finally it also recognises that those of us who aren’t parents to children can also benefit society by working less by caring for our older generations or building communities to assist in the development of the children around us.
Universal policies that do offer massive benefits to new parents whilst also positively impacting all workers build comradery amongst the working class and remove the sense of antagonism, competition and resentment of the technocratic, piece-meal offerings of Australian political parties. A nice side effect of universal socialist policies for the whole working class is that we would probably have no need for an Annabel Crabb to explain them to us. I’m sure that is something we can all get behind.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, Anna Pha interviewed Thomas Costa, assistant secretary of Unions NSW, on the gig economy and the appalling conditions that workers in that sector work under. In this, Part 2, they discuss visa workers and the expansion of the GIG economy into new, higher-skilled fields of work.
Thomas Costa: A lot of local workers just gave up and said we are not going to do it any more. Increasingly more migrant workers started to move in, particularly student migrants. We found when we were out talking to them, we did some surveys, about 70 percent of people in this workforce are on a student visa.
This seems to be common for the gig economy that uses independent contracting. Student-workers have a limitation on how much they can work on their visa. They are only legally allowed to work 20 hours a week. Unfortunately, if you are trying to live in Sydney or Melbourne and trying to live on 20 hours work a week it is virtually impossible. Then you factor in a lot of these workers are underpaid it becomes impossible.
So what they do to supplement their income is independent contracting which is not checked as closely by the government. So you can stay in the country doing a mix of 20 hours of legitimate employment work and then do 10-20 hours of independent contracting in the gig economy, but you are incredibly vulnerable because of that.
The employers know it.
Anna Pha: Do the employers hold it over them?
TC: A lot of them do. When we were out speaking to these riders they were very happy to speak to us, but very concerned about us doing anything on their behalf because it could jeopardise their visa position. That made it a bit difficult.
We also had an activist who had set up one of the WhatsApp groups they used to communicate in Foodora and after working with us a little while Foodora called him into their head office. This is a bike rider who delivers food. They asked him to hand over his WhatsApp group with all his contacts on it!
These companies would never talk to us, but they are very aggressive with their workforce. He refused to give it to them; he was very impressive. They asked him to shut it down. He refused, so they terminated his contract.
We said that was unfair, so the TWU (Transport Workers Union) ended up taking that to the Commission as unfair dismissal. One of the big questions in an unfair dismissal case is whether these workers are employees or independent contractors.
If they are employees you can’t sack them in this way, they have unfair dismissal protection and you probably owe them a lot of money. That case went on for a little while and allowed us to get a lot of media attention on what was going on. Even some of the news stations ran it, such as The Project on Channel 10.
The TWU won that case and Foodora lost, closed their business [in Australia], and left the country with only $5 million in the bank. There was another win out of that. The union was able to contact the workers, put in a claim and get money back. I don’t think they got all of the money that was outstanding to them but I think a few million dollars was returned to workers.
That was Foodora.
Campaign for minimum rights
Our campaign with the riders has not stopped. We are still working with the TWU to organise those workers. The important thing for that campaign is that we are not necessarily seeking for these workers to not to be independent contractors or to be employees. We don’t really care what they are categorised as, that comes from the workers themselves. That’s not what is important to them.
What’s important to them isn’t the semantics, but that they have the same minimum rights, that they have the same minimum rates of pay, they have sick leave, workers’ comp, superannuation – all things they don’t get at the moment.
They do not get them because they’ve been described as independent contractors, they’ve been told that they are running their own business which is ridiculous when you are making $10-$15 an hour.
AP: Do the companies make them take out an ABN?
TC: Yes. They do. So that’s their cover for these companies. But that wasn’t good enough in the Foodora case. The court said that the amount of control you have over these workers shows that they are employees.
But our concern is that these companies could get around this. They could take away that amount of control. But even so, if they were completely free-acting agents, these workers are entirely dependent on these companies and they don’t earn enough to pay their own super, to pay their own workers’ comp, to pay their sick leave.
They should have those things guaranteed.
That’s the problem with other approaches in other places, internationally, that we’ve seen is that if you start the argument that they are not independent contractors, they are employees, then you kind of buy into the argument that independent contractors don’t deserve those rights and we don’t agree with that. We think any worker deserves minimum rights. It doesn’t matter what they call you, because you’re a worker.
Unless you can somehow show that these people are making such large sums of money that they are their own business, we don’t think they are. That’s not the model.
That campaign is still unfolding. It has moved to a real organising model, actually recruiting members still and campaigning.
AP: So there’s really no legal protections for these workers?
TC: No, apart from if you can show that they are not legitimately employed as an independent contractor, then you can kind of bring them into the employment legislation. But if you can’t do that, then there are no protections for them.
We still argue that they should come under the workers’ comp scheme. But at the moment Uber Eats and Deliveroo aren’t providing full workers’ comp entitlements. It is a very dangerous job, as you can imagine. They are riding on the roads, they are probably riding very fast because they want to make sure they get the next shift the following week which depends on how fast they deliver.
If it is a rainy night, you can just imagine what happens with all the traffic in Sydney.
AP: What proportion of the fee would Uber and the other companies keep?
TC: For ride share I’m not sure. I don’t know how much they take in taxi-type services. In terms of food delivery, they take about 30 per cent of the meal price – that goes to the company. On top of that there is an additional $5 or $6 dollar delivery fee. It might have gone up even. I am not sure.
Riders, restaurants, and customers are losers
So no one makes money out of this except the company. The restaurant doesn’t really make money because of the 30 percent taken out of the meal price is really quite high. They don’t make a huge amount of money, if anything at all. They’ve just got to be in it to keep up. Obviously the riders are not making much money at all and the customer is being hit with an additional fee on top of it as well.
There were some people I’ve spoken to who see this kind of move towards food convenience as being linked into a bigger, broader social problem which is that as working hours are increasing, people don’t have time any more to cook and do things at home. So they become more reliant on these kinds of services in order to just get by. It’s a sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have increasing working hours in the traditional economy, workers are staying back at work, they stay longer hours, they come home, they need a quick fix to feed the family, so these Apps are very convenient for them.
Then you have the student migrant workforce that’s very vulnerable, being used to fill the gap in delivering that food in very exploitative conditions. So there’s a bigger picture as to how all of this is interacting in the Australian economy.
We are doing a lot of work with migrant communities at the moment through our Visa Assist program, where we provide immigration services to migrant workers who are union members. We are seeing increasingly that the visa system we have in Australia funnels migrant workers into exploitative work conditions and creates a pseudo guest worker scheme.
Virtual guest worker system
We virtually have in Australia a similar guest worker system to what they have in Dubai, except we don’t call it a guest worker system. We call them student workers, or working holiday visas or 457s, but each of these visas in their own way is being used to funnel these workers into vulnerable situations where they often get underpaid and sometimes mistreated in other ways.
AP: I recently rang a take-away that I have used before to order a delivery of a meal. They told me I had to go online and order through Uber Eats to order it or come to the restaurant and pick it up. As a matter of principle, I had no intention of using Uber Eats so rang another outlet.
TC: This is a good question. There’s been a lot of talk about why the unions didn’t run a boycott campaign. That was mostly driven by the workers, when we first started talking to them they told us they don’t want people boycotting us because they need the work. They need to get out there and deliver.
So what we would prefer is a campaign that lifts our wages and conditions. So that is why we didn’t actively encourage people to boycott these services. If you think about the fact that we know where all their customers are, we could have easily run a boycott campaign. It is not difficult for us to put a flyer in every single Uber Eats bag and every Deliveroo food bag and say don’t buy from us, they are only paying us $5-$10 an hour.
We know where all the customers are which is why these gig companies in this space are quite vulnerable. The same in Uber taxi service, the driver speaks to the customer. So it’s very easy for us if we wanted to, to run a boycott campaign. It might be something that we do in the future if the riders want us to do that. But at the moment they’ve been quite insistent that we try to improve their rights, they need these jobs, they just want to be paid properly and have the proper conditions and safeguards.
Some of the workers we spoke to actually love this job but said it is completely undervalued. There was one who had been doing it for three years who said when he first started that it was a fantastic job. He loved being on his bike and getting out there and delivering. But once they started reducing the rates of pay, it started to become really difficult.
Those are the campaigns that we have been running and done before. We are now starting to look at a new area in the gig economy which is not low skilled work but which is high skilled, qualified work. That is particularly in the care sector, the disability care sector and the aged care sector.
Expansion of gig economy
There are a number of companies moving into that space and there are a number of unions who are getting worried what the interaction of the NDIS and these GIG economy companies could lead to and is leading to gigifying of the care sector where we are seeing companies like Mabel operating like Airtasker but not for low skilled workers, for very high skilled workers, for professionals.
We are watching that and there are a number of unions working in that space already that are trying to minimise any of the negative effects that an happen through that.
AP: That is worrying from a number of points of view – who, for example is responsible for quality of care, that is apart from their working conditions.
TC: According to Mabel, it is all on the professional. They have to get their own insurance and pay for all that. They are sort of taking a very hands-off approach towards having any responsibility for what happens between the carer and the person they are caring for.
You will see workers desperate to get out there and get jobs. They won’t be in a position to say “no” even if it is an unsafe environment. They won’t even be in a position to vet who they are going out to see.
That was what we were really worried about when we first saw Airtasker.
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