It’s time for smoko again. Your correspondent from Concrete
Warranty Motors (repairs guaranteed until the vehicle leaves the
driveway), Ern O’Malley, has been less than ubiquitous this month,
having spent the first week or so laid up with the 'flu. Upon his return
he found the workshop embroiled in a heated industrial dispute between
management and the labour hire contractors. More on that later. One
negotiating session was so acrimonious that Saltbush Bill likened it to
a Democrats' party-room meeting.
Speaking of which, the Democrats leadership crisis finally caused
comment at smoko, mainly in response to the political cartoonists in The
Australian and The
Courier-Mail. The Dirty Dozen are fairly evenly divided in their
criticism of Meg Lees and Natasha Spot Destroyer (as the former
Democrats leader is usually called). The new leadership contenders have
failed to even register any interest here. The Snowman killed
conversation at smoko by asking: "If Aden Ridgeway becomes Prime
Minister, does he have to say Sorry?" No one had an answer to that!
At first the Dirty Dozen were rather mute on the subject of war with
Iraq, though you get the feeling they are quietly against it. They did
have much to say about the overblown media coverage of September 11th.
By the 10th they'd had enough, skipping over articles that
referred to terrorism. On the 11th, the special 9/11
supplements of the newspapers were thrown into the bin without even
being opened. Taff let fly with several minutes of invective against the
media in general, in particular how little attention was paid to the
terror faced by individuals daily in other parts of the world. Penguin
agreed, accusing the Americans of "having made this mess through
their own foreign policy, and then expecting the world to chip in and
help clean it up". Elvis declared "the Septics must take us
for mugs!" Sanjeev raised the theoretical possibility of
conscription, should the war turn ugly, asking the under-35s among us if
we would go. The general response was "(insert expletive here) no.
I’m not fighting Little Johnny’s war!" though one young bloke
was keen. To this, Elvis, a veteran of two tours of Vietnam, could only
sadly shake his head. "You’ll learn, young fella, it’s nothing
like the movies."
With new dad Penguin having been counselled by management for taking
too much leave, it was an easy task to raise this month’s On Line
Opinion topic of family policy. The all-male smoko room consider
paid maternity leave sexist. What they support is a set amount of paid
parental leave per family that can be used by either or both parents as
the need arises. Some fathers, both current and prospective, wish to
play a greater role in their child’s upbringing and feel the current
workplace structures prevent them from doing so. There was even some
talk of using job-sharing arrangements to work fewer hours and
facilitate a more family-oriented lifestyle.
The Queensland Premier’s plan to ban police from taking any
industrial action whatsoever enraged the Dirty Dozen, some of whom live
in Peter Beattie’s electorate. "He’s a bloody dictator!"
shouted Taff, who then went on to compare Beattie to Robert Mugabe.
Saltbush Bill said: "They should change the name of the state to
Petebeteland. He runs it like a tinpot little African one-party
state". Penguin challenged anyone at the table to name the Deputy
Premier, only to be met with blank faces and several seconds of stunned
silence. No one had a clue (except yours truly, who chose to feign
ignorance). "There you go. It isn’t a one-party state, it’s a
Penguin, our resident Kiwi, often sits there observing our political
discussions with a wry grin on his face. When asked about this, he
replied: "I love Australian politics. There’s so much
backstabbing, infighting, corruption and bitching. We just don’t get
any of that in New Zealand. It’s bloody good entertainment just to sit
up late at night and watch Question Time. I just love it."
But industrial relations has been the dominant topic in the past few
weeks. Taff, our stereotypical pommy shop steward, has naturally led the
charge on this. He accuses employers of taking advantage of labour hire
to oppress the worker and reduce wages through aggressive tendering.
"What they have done is consistently drive down wages by using
labour hire where they should be employing full-time staff. It’s
nothing but a rort!"
Penguin, who was previously very anti-union, agrees: "They are
creating a second-class workforce. You are now getting a situation where
there is inequity between labour hire and permanent workforces on the
The employer’s response of "What do you expect us to do? Cut
our margins so you can have more money in your pocket?" was met
with howls of derision.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Labour hire
has grown to become a major part of the workforce, taking advantage of
the Howard government’s reforms to our system of industrial relations.
Could this result in an increase in militant union activity as more
labour hire contracts are awarded to the cheapest bidder? We shall have
to wait and see.
See you next smoko.
*The Deputy Premier of Queensland is Terry
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