Doctor and activist

Power, Injury and Awards

26 November 2016

Power, Injury and Awards.  I work in medicine, treating mostly third party motor vehicle injuries and workers compensation injuries.  There are much fewer of the latter because there are less employees.  Many people working as couriers are ‘self employed’ contractors.  One man had to pay $75,000 for the right to deliver parcels to a segment of Sydney for a big courier company.  He had to have his own vehicle.  One of this co-workers (?co-contractors) tried to sell his franchise area and a court ruled that he did not own it- it reverted to the courier company.  When the man, now my patient, was injured lifting, he was supposedly not an employee, but luckily was treated as a workers compensation injury, presumably on the basis of legal precedents.  But he has been told that if he cannot get back to work soon, his area will go to someone else.  The courier company has the power. He has the injury. There is no award.

Another patient was working regular hours as a furniture removalist.  Cash in hand.  He had a serious accident as a passenger in the van.  He can’t work.  His treatment is paid for by green slip insurance- but wages, forget it.  He is not an employee.

We heard about the bodgie labour hire companies that arrange workers for the fruit pickers to supply Woolworth, the rip off of 7- Eleven franchises and now Caltex, that reputable oil company.

Yet recently the Liberal government passed the Registered Organisations Act against union corruption, and the Australian Building and Construction Commission Acts, both of which are to control unions.  It does seem to me that the problem is that Unions are too weak, not too strong.

When I buy petrol, I ask the person on the till whether they are paid an award wage.  Usually they looked straight at the CCTV camera and said something like, ‘Oh, I can’t talk about that’.  One Metro guy said, ‘No’, so I asked what he thought might give him a chance of getting an award wage.  He said, ‘Maybe if I had an Australian boss’.  Obviously the idea that a Union or the Fair Work Commission might help him never crossed his radar.  Perhaps some Australians still regard paying award wages as a necessary or obligatory thing, but clearly the Fair Work Commission is far less effective at ensuring awards are paid than the unions used to be.   a government level, there is no will to insist that profits are shared and everyone gets a fair go.  The unions are merely further marginalised.

Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, writing in ‘The Conversation’ on 30/1/14 said:

‘The causes of organised crime infiltrating organised labour are well documented.  The North American industrial relations landscape throughout the 20th century demonstrates that weakened trade unions increasingly rely on other, more nefarious means to secure the rights of workers.

In the 1940s and 50s, US governments introduced industrial legislation that persecuted unionists and disincentivised union membership.  Accordingly, organised labour looked to organised crime to “lean on” employers who would not accept union organisation.  In turn, organised crime required payment through union pension or superannuation funds as well as shares in labour hire agreements.

The Nixon administration responded to this phenomenon by implementing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act 1970.  In effect, the RICO Act busted unions through a “crackdown” on organised crime.  Union officials were prosecuted and sacked while the federal government centralised control of unions.  With organised labour firmly in the hands of the State, unions lost their independent power to bargain with the State and Capital on behalf of workers.  Perhaps this is what the federal government has in mind for the CFMEU.’

I will continue to treat my patients, getting paid increasingly at the whim of insurers, the cut rate of emasculated Medicare, or for free for the increasing army of 457 visa people who do the dirtiest and least secure jobs and are not even covered by Medicare.

But Australia really has to do better than this.  ‘The Market’ does not solve all problems.  Governments are responsible to and for the people.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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