Doctor and activist


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Category: Occupational Health

Motivation and Money

25 September 2021

Some years ago, I won a Public Service Fellowship to study workplace absence and had what the Americans call a boondoggle, with a world trip to look at why people attend or do not attend work.

One outcome from that was that I stopped using the word ‘Absenteeism’ as that is a valued judgement suggesting a worker disease, and used the term ‘workplace absence’ which, as the progressive journals at the time insisted meant that an employee considered that they had a better reason not to be at work.

Unsurprisingly people who had more interesting work or control over their work were less likely to be absent, while those in boring production lines were more likely.  The US car industry had absence rates of around 10% and handled this by simply rostering on excess people in the assumption that people were not going to turn up.  A union OHS academic there said that the rates of what we called RSI were very high, but I did not get to examine workers and naturally no figures were available.  

People who needed to be away from work also were more often absent, particularly women with families whose incomes were lower than their partners.  Later I looked at age groups and health as these were measureable and confirmed the general conclusion that health did not correlate with absence.  People who had a chronic illness were less likely to take sick days as they might need them later, whereas young healthy males wanted to go surfing. 

The Swedish car industry let workers have quite a lot of autonomy, but this had led to the workers trying to finish early and giving themselves RSI, but the Swedes were not keen to talk about this, as they had been studied by too many itinerants like me, (and one suspected that they did not like what we had found).

The Japanese worked very long hours, and had token payments systems which kept a peer pressure to gain this respect, but the last  part of their long working hours tended to be not very productive, because the peer pressure was merely not to be the first to leave.  Again, this insight came from US academics; not the Japanese.

One of sillier things that I noted in some management training that I had was that some still seem to think that the only thing that motivates people is money.  This seemed so simplistic to me as to almost absurd, but it was still taught.

So I was interested to see an article today by Malcolm Knox  in the SMH about the motivation of the Melbourne Storm Rugby League players, who are favoured to beat Penrith in the second preliminary final this afternoon.  Some of their players are paid much less than they would be if they changed clubs, but they stay there because of their respect for the coach, and for the fact that the team wins.  Young fullback Ryan Papenhausen is quoted as saying that he stays while Bellamy is coach because he thinks he will improve most while coached by this man.  So despite salary caps, which are designed to even up the quality of players between clubs, Melbourne have more than their share of stars.

I have not been a huge fan of Rugby League over the years as it seemed to merely have people bump into each other and lacked the subtlety  and variety of Rugby Union, particularly the innovative movements of the All Blacks.  But their variety and flair is improving, particularly with the work of Nathan Cleary at Penrith, which is now being watched and copied to the level that other teams have been beating them.

We can watch Melbourne Storm v. Penrith from 4pm, but I will also be thinking that if Melbourne wins, it will say something about motivation and money.

www.theage.com.au/sport/nrl/splitting-heirs-papenhuyzen-storm-s-regeneration-proves-the-cap-doesn-t-fit-anymore-20210924-p58ugx.html

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iCare= Hopeless in Two Reports but the Bad Joke Continues

30 April 2021

Two reports on iCare have come out on the same day- how convenient, one lot of publicity rather than two.The report of the Parliamentary Committee was one report, the other was a report by Robert McDougall, a retired Supreme Court judge.The political report looked at the disgraceful evidence given by John Nagle which showed almost no care for the injured workers and an appalling attitude of entitlement in him and his crony staff. iCare had not even known what workers’ Pre-Injury Average Weekly Earnings (PIAWE) were, and had not tried very hard to find out so that they could underpay them and minimise their costs. They relied on computer algorithms rather than staff to manage the claims, only getting staff on the case if there were problems, which there usually were, as the poor patients were having their treatments delayed or denied.
The McDougall report had its terms of reference set by Treasury, who were also the department being investigated, and they also staffed the inquiry. The Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet did not agree to be interviewed by McDougall and got away with this. Is this some sort of bad joke? The McDougall report found incompetence etc, but no actual corruption that anyone could be charged with. As such, the McDougall report was a political success. It took the heat off the Treasurer from November to now, and will result in a bit of publicity, no serious recriminations and the usual promises of future action. John Robertson, an old union hack is the new CEO, so Labor will not criticise iCare now.
My poor patients will be mucked around, be underpaid and have their treatment denied as usual. And Treasurer Perrottet will sail on hoping to be Premier as Gladys falls. What a joke!


www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-30/damning-reports-released-over-nsw-icare/100107076?fbclid=IwAR34I_blTADSxa2OoWxrzOpvgNPZ3KUFmhQmpSFZHd4LSOIVdof0nx8yMGs

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Labour Hire Companies facilitate Wage Scams

5 April 2021

When I was in Parliament the then NSW Labor Government had an inquiry into WorkChoices, which was the Howard Federal government’s preferred industrial relations model. It was, as the Liberals said, an political inquiry designed to criticise what Howard was doing. (Historians will recall that it cost the Howard government s lot of votes).

But both Unions and Employers came and lobbied me, as did Labour Hire business owners. The Labour Hire companies said that they could get a better deal for the employees as they were negotiating on their behalf with employers and if they had special skills the employers would have to pay for these. I asked them how much commission they took on this as obviously employers would have to pay their commission as well as the subcontractor’s payment. They were very reluctant to be specific on this point as it was ‘variable’. But it did seem to me that the chief objective was to make the worker a private subcontractor rather than an employee and thus remove award pay rates, holidays, sick leave, workers compensation, and bargaining power. The Labor Hire company was often just a commission agent, though some employed the workers.

It seems that this model of getting rid of direct employees has evolved and is now standard in many industries. I have seen a woman accidentally stab herself in the forearm while boning chickens at 3.30 am on a 12 hour shift, a man shoot himself in the heart with a nail gun trying to assemble flat pack kitchens alone and RSI in a hotel worker so advanced that it has made no recovery in 3 years, after being expected to clean high-end hotel rooms, including making the bed, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom in 12 minutes each.

‘Subcontractors’ may have no awards, no unions, no OHS and no redress when people are ripped off. The lumbering ‘Fair Work Commission’, out of sight and out of touch seems to make very little difference to a Darwinian model.

Let us see if criminalising wage theft makes any difference. There are a lot of laws on the books that are never enforced.

https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.smh.com.au%2Fbusiness%2Fworkplace%2Faustralia-s-shocking-wage-theft-scandals-keep-coming-by-the-truckload-20210312-p57a5p.html%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR3FoKWzuLj-nv9W5moUs7K-HmlfV8msxTXhOicq62KM83zMerzWwcFiJYM&h=AT3RrEZXGjEyZeQ7rNBoGGgl9Flo0_zzfDuqRAnUxguMlUcU-J9oiuQGDpT01vJnqPsdtFErgLw0g92bkmtQt_TQ-vPzVqPsWvYaVFbIYosdg1YBYAm5Fke4e4-OdaDB8JwYckGgwuhNR5mltMZO&tn=-UK-R&c[0]=AT2ipxj2y11laB8hdM-suLNA2ij5tamnMBYbjAGX5r25jhtlSzzvd-Dn6kj1lQ88fBiyw1dyFFnNXi8tEuTfOVY_74RgrorvDvqc2EuyAIWBJMbsZjzjqyCneyp7HOlhnr8r_bd9dZtlDER2pMrWsThzMw
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Drug Testing and Strip Searching 7/11/19

7 November 2019

I have some experience in this area, though I would not seek to overstate it.

In 1985 I won a public service fellowship to look at workplace absence and I looked at the evidence of whether drug testing in the workplace worked. The main place it was suggested was at pre-employment medicals. The idea was that if you tested them and they were OK, they could have the job. It was a pretty silly idea as only a really serious addict would come to job medical interview with drugs on board so the pick up rate was low, the costs high, and the impression on the workers quite negative.

Later in my OHS job a worker was sent in for a medical as he was said to be using hard drugs in the portable toilet (thunderbox). He was taunting and arrogant, saying that I could not prove anything, and could not do anything as he would not give permission for the test. He was right of course, but he soon proved his accusers right as well by falling out the door of the thunderbox with a needle stuck in his arm.

When I worked in private OHS, the NSW State government saved money by sending people on parole to be drug urine tested on Medicare by local GPs. I was stuck with it in our practice which was one of the few that still agreed to do the testing. A man came in, angry and abusive, demanding immediate service, which he was granted to stop him terrorising the waiting room. He brought in a jar of very cold urine for testing. I said that I wanted a fresh specimen, gave him a jar and pointed to the toilet, ten paces away. He left to ‘get a new specimen’ and came back some time later. I said that I wanted to see him pass it, so he pulled his undies down saying, ‘There it is, are you happy now?’ No I wasn’t, as he had another small vial of urine in his hand as he held his undies. ‘You are a hard bastard’, he said as he eventually passed the urine, which unsurprisingly showed he was still using narcotics. The Parole people were pleased. They said, ‘We knew he was using but could not get a GP to get us a specimen’. I was not surprised that GPs were reluctant. At $15.20 for a Medicare visit that involved a terrified waiting room, half an hour of time, a threat to have your head punched in and the disruption of a whole afternoon for a whole medial practice, I told them that we were not going to continue testing either. Presumably he went back to gaol, and one might wonder how much good that did.

My next encounter was a female friend who had been very traumatised by a previous serious rape attempt that she had fought off. She was going through Central Station on her way to work, when a sniffer dog made the Police insist on searching her bag and ‘patting her down’. She had an empty plastic bag in her handbag that she had had a small amount of marijuana in some weeks before. But she was very traumatised by the experience because of the memories that were stirred and by the idea that she could not even walk around without people assuming that they had the right to touch her body.

The NSW Government will not allow pill testing at concerts, but wants to try to stop the drugs entering. Presumably there is a risk that younger people will bring them in if they are exempt from searches. Where will this end? Body cavity searches? MRIs outside concerts?

Prohibition will generally not work in the workplace, let alone the rock concerts. We need harm minimisation policies. This is not easy and it is not perfect, but it is better than prohibition.

Here is the NSW story in the NY Times, presumably with the unstated subheading, ‘Look what these mad Australians are doing now.’

www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/world/australia/strip-search-children-drugs.html

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