Labouring the facts fails to offer choice for casuals

Illustration: Andrew DysonCredit:

Mark Wooden (‘‘The case for casual employment’’, 11/8) would clearly like to frame an argument that casual employment is a choice that benefits the employee as much as the employer. And yet he finds himself a slave to the facts which, even as he argues his point, prove the opposite.
He points out that casual employees like their work but have lower incomes, which indicates they would like to work more hours. He also admits that while the casual loading is 25 per cent, the actual differential is closer to 6 per cent, which he attributes to permanent employees being favoured for advancement or, disturbingly, employers not complying with award requirements.

Wooden makes no effort to address why since the 2018 move to give casual workers the right to request a permanent position more workers haven’t exercised that right. Has anyone looked at the employment patterns of casuals since that change in the awards? Are there employers who have dropped the hours, or employment, of otherwise ‘‘regular casuals’’ after 11 months in order to break that ‘‘regular pattern’’?

I do not think the case for casual employment has been proved. Rather the contrary.
Mick Cahill, Fitzroy North

Study shows financial strain of workers
Mark Wooden paints a rosy picture of satisfied casual workers, glossing over any negatives. If casual work is so satisfying, why have casual workers, 65 per cent of whom actually work regular hours, launched legal cases wanting to be classified as permanent employees? In 2017 the Fair Work commission ruled against a labour hire company for misclassifying workers as casual. Adding to this is the number of wage theft cases, usually involving casual workers, over the past two years. Then there are the contract workers. Sham contracts (when an employer treats a worker as a contractor rather than an employee) are rife, pointing to an erosion of worker rights.

Wooden relies heavily on the HILDA study, quoting the subjective measures of ‘‘job satisfaction’’ and these jobs being ‘‘not bad jobs’’, glossing over the objective measures to support a neo-liberal viewpoint. The objective measures in this study found considerable financial strain, lower levels of education and the vulnerability of these jobs. Surely financial strain links in to mental health wellbeing. Other studies have shown less job satisfaction and an erosion or lack of rights for casual and contract workers.
Susan Simpson, Surrey Hills

Some jobs should not be casualised
Mark Wooden makes a fair but hardly compelling case for casual employment – one-fifth of Australia’s workforce, as he says, but according to a parliamentary library report more like one-quarter. Of course casual employment is welcomed by many young people. When I was a student in England I took casual holiday jobs to pay for holidays. I never questioned my rights and entitlements. Not only was my tertiary education paid for by a local authority grant, but also my accommodation and living expenses.

Lecturing at the University of Melbourne, from the late 1990s I found that all my students had casual jobs during semester time. It didn’t help the quality of their work, but they needed a job to live. Would I have taken a casual job in aged care, or guarding hotel quarantine? Never. Some jobs are just not appropriate for a casual labour force.
Nicholas Low, Professorial Fellow in Urban and Environmental Planning, the University of Melbourne

Concentration of exploitation in some sectors
Mark Wooden states that results from HILDA Survey data show that while casual employees are more likely to be dissatisfied with job security than other employees, this does not equate to lower job satisfaction. However, a sector analysis would reveal a concentration of casual employees highly exploited. Most notably the university sector. Casual employment is often seen as providing flexibility; try convincing the thousands of university and aged care workers who need to work across workplaces to make ends meet.
Peter McIntosh, Ballarat

THE FORUM

Exports inflate gas price
It seems counterintuitive to fund more gas exploration and build more domestic infrastructure when we exported $49 billion of natural gas last year, placing us as the largest gas exporter in the world. This is the reason domestic prices are high and why there is insufficient capacity for local manufacturing. Another example of privatisation of community assets that results in a negative benefit to Australian consumers.
Denise Stevens, Healesville

Intensive energy support
How surprising that Nev Power, the former boss of Fortescue Metals Group, is pushing for taxpayer funds to be used in a gas-led recovery at the expense of renewables (‘‘PM urged to fund major gas projects’’, 12/8). For a long time we have been told by the coalition government that we can’t afford renewables because they require subsidies. Yet here we have that same government looking at putting funds into holding up the gas market. That is a market where demand and prices are falling across the world as so many other countries recognise that renewables are the sensible way to go.
Marg D’Arcy, Rye

Picking losers
The Liberal government, enthusiastic advocate of laissez faire economics, said it could not provide subsidies for renewable energy because it could not ‘‘pick winners’’ and the market had to determine which energy sources would thrive. Now that same government wants to subsidise gas fields, underwrite new gas pipelines and commit to buying any and all surplus gas produced. This sounds a lot like picking winners.

As a putative transition fuel, gas has been shown to be little or no better than coal, when fugitive emissions are considered, so it seems our government has also picked losers – all Australians who are not profiting from the gas industry, Australia, including all its unique plants and animals, and the planet.
Helen Moss, Croydon

The greater good
Of course it is an insult to the memories of the three Australian soldiers who were shot by an Afghan soldier to release their murderer as part of a deal to bring about a ceasefire in Afghanistan, but nothing will bring them back. Surely the real issue is whether the Taliban can be trusted to honour any deal made. If so, then bringing peace to Afghanistan and saving civilian and military lives is the greater good.
Helen Pereira, Heidelberg Heights

Premier shows grace
Whatever anyone says about Daniel Andrews, you have to admire his work ethic. Fronting up for some 38 consecutive coronavirus press briefings, seven days a week, giving detailed and considered answers to a wide range of questions, not ending each press conference until there were no more questions – no matter how long that took, and always returning the following day with a response to questions that he was unable to answer on the spot and which he promised to follow up on. You would be hard-pressed to find another politician who would be prepared to do this day after day and with such patience and good grace.
Garry Meller, Bentleigh

‘Foolhardy’ lockdown
The resurgence of COVID-19 community transmission in New Zealand should put paid to foolhardy attempts to extinguish the virus through lockdowns. It is here to stay so we had best get on with living our lives while appropriately resourcing the health system to cope with any surges, and doing our utmost to protect the vulnerable.

Governments in Australia have failed on all counts – COVID-19 is cutting a path through nursing homes, while people are losing their businesses, homes and livelihoods as a result of demonstrably ineffective lockdowns. Politicians need to come clean – they cannot protect everyone, and we must open both our borders and our economy before more lives are lost to suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence and all the other maladies caused by high unemployment and social isolation. Scott Hillard, New Lambton

Seeking a scapegoat
It’s time for people to stop playing politics and admit there was little Dan Andrews could have done to stop the problems that occurred in quarantine. It’s irrefutable that the individuals involved in this sorry saga are truly the ones to blame. The security guards and those in quarantine who chose to put themselves and others at risk are the real villains. Yet the Liberals continue to hunt for political scapegoats even when they profess to hold individual rights above all else. Funny how these rights don’t translate to individuals being responsible for their own actions. If we truly want our leaders to take the fall for the actions of others, then we must accept the consequences – leaders too fearful to make the hard, and yes, often risky decisions needed to fight this pandemic.
Thomas P. Laurie, New Gisborne

Co-operation needed
Good to see Andrews fronting a parliamentary hearing into Victoria’s failed hotel quarantine. Morrison on the other hand, despite a summons issued by Commissioner Bret Walker, has refused to allow federal officers to give evidence before a NSW inquiry into the Ruby Princess debacle. The PM refuses to say why the officials should not be heard, other than his routine ‘‘market-speak’’ that the government is co-operating. Despite the stuff-ups in Victoria, I’ll take the leadership of Andrews over Morrison any day of the week.
Neil Hudson, East Melbourne

War only half over
The present parliamentary committee reviewing the efficacy of the Victorian government’s response to the pandemic seems a bit like judging the success of a war strategy halfway through its course. It is reckless. Responsible politicians should stop seeking the possible political advantage of smart hindsight and start supporting the strategies being pursued by the government. Let us not kneecap the ‘‘command team’’ at this fraught time, and let them get on with the job to which they are so obviously committed.
Keith Boast, Lake Wendouree

Let’s be best and fairest
Professor Judith Bessant’s article (‘‘Surviving crisis requires courage’’, 12/8) on the need for a new economic model as a result of the COVID-19 crisis should come as a wake-up call to all politicians and business leaders. To give an example of inequality, the Australian Council of Social Services says more than one million Australian children live in poverty. This number was before the present crisis. Children who cannot afford the entrance fee to the local pool on hot summer days. Whose parents cannot feed them adequately. And don’t forget the homeless and disadvantaged.

The federal government’s National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board seems set on stimulating the gas and coal sector instead of looking at policies to create a better and fairer society. As Professor Bessant points out, money is available very cheaply and there is the opportunity now to bring in reforms such as a living wage, to get rid of the gig economy and treat all workers with dignity and respect by providing proper training opportunities and wages. We will face a future of social unrest unless reform is implemented now.
Meg Paul, Camberwell

Subservient to economy
A gold star plus an elephant stamp for Judith Bessant for saying ‘‘For a successful rebuild we must reject any model that says society should serve the economy’’, and good on Alan Kohler for his words of wisdom, ‘‘everything we thought we knew about public finance over the past 40 years is wrong’’. We can only hope that a copy of this practical and uplifting article is forwarded to the Prime Minister.
Rosemary Taylor, Castlemaine

Hoof it to quarantine
Racehorses arriving in Australia need to quarantine for 14 days at a dedicated centre in Werribee, where they have their own training track. Likewise imported cats and dogs have their own facility, with exercise yards. Surely we could start building dedicated quarantine facilities for humans as well? It could be built alongside an existing airport, and designed to keep those arriving, and those looking after them, as safe as possible. In non-pandemic times it could operate as budget transit accommodation.
Rob Skelton, Creswick

War memorial plan
The controversial and enormously expensive proposal to expand the Australian War Memorial is justified by claims it has a ‘‘therapeutic’’ role. Certainly it has an important place in recognising some past conflicts (despite omitting the frontier wars) and respecting and valuing veterans. But the healing claim is an astonishing trivialisation of the complexity and long-term treatment needed to successfully treat mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
These funds could be so much better spent; be it on mental health care, other national museums starved of funds, public housing, our public broadcaster etc.
This extravagant expansion must be challenged. Our federal budget is not a magic pudding.
Dr Margaret Beavis, Medical Association for Prevention of War

Listen to Kennedy
As this football season goes on I really try hard to watch my team, as the wriggling mass of bodies lying on the ball makes viewing the game impossible. Brawling packs, indiscriminate handballs over heads, kicks going backwards, the ‘‘holding the ball’’ rules that no one can interpret and fullbacks running to the centre of the ground to kick in after a point has been scored. Football has become an awful mixture of basketball, rugby and hoppo bumpo. For goodness sake, AFL Powers That Be, in the words of the late John Kennedy – Do Something! And resume football in 2021 with full 20-minute quarters. Otherwise I’ll start playing marbles.
Bob Dare, Clifton Springs

AND ANOTHER THING …

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Coronavirus
We’ve had the Space Race and the Nuclear Arms Race. It seems now we are experiencing the Vaccine Race.
Jon Smith, Leongatha

Since when is hiring a private security firm a sackable offence? Pre-pandemic, one could not imagine the difficulties of the task.
Greg Oates, Huon Creek

Why do Melbourne TV stations still illustrate their news stories with pre-COVID-19 scenes of unmasked people? It’s creating a dangerously wrong impression.
John Boyce, Richmond

The true test of a person’s character is how they perform in a crisis. Michael O’Brien fails daily.
Julie Conquest, Brighton

Definition of obfuscation … Daniel Andrews.
Geraldine O’Sullivan, Hawthorn

I thought gas was already quite affordable … just not to Australian users.
Marie Nash, Balwyn

If casual work is so popular why don’t employers offer all staff the choice between full-time and casual?
Peter Walker, Black Rock

Scotty from marketing has never advocated transparency. It started with we don’t discuss ‘‘on-water matters’’. Why are some surprised now?
Jenny Callaghan, Hawthorn

Oh, for a PM we’d all admire for his science-based leadership, and our responsible part in the world.
Barbara Fraser, Burwood

Aged care – has to be up there for oxymoron of the year?
Henry Herzog, St Kilda East

Hardly a word said when federal officials are shielded from the Ruby Princess inquiry. A torrent of criticism when Victorian ministers front up for a grilling.
Julia Thornton, Surrey Hills

Fearless leader. Show ’em how it’s done, Jacinda.
Sam Evans, Thornbury

Finally
Delighted to see Cathy Wilcox (12/8) go full-on Magritte in these somewhat surreal times.
Terence Hogan, Heidelberg West

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