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Loopy Laborís disconnect from reality

By John Mikkelsen - posted Monday, 26 February 2024


The Labor Government’s Closing the Loopholes Bill is the latest blow to reality  and the business economy, but its “ Right to Disconnect” will no doubt be welcomed by some workers and the legal profession.

It’s the latest brainchild of Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke and his boss, PM Anthony Albanese, to appease their all-powerful union puppet masters.

As economist Judith Sloan commented  recently in The Spectator Australia, “Gone is the emphasis on an open and competitive economy where workers and bosses work out win-win solutions, it’s now open class warfare and wealth redistribution".

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But the “disconnect” element comes from an amendment by the loopy Greens, accepted by Labor and supported in the Senate by equally-loopy non-independent Teals, and Independents David Pocock and Lidia Thorpe. It poses the threat of huge fines on employers who dare to contact a worker outside normal business hours - employees will be able to raise a complaint about “intrusive” phone calls or the expectation they answer work emails out-of-hours with their employer.

If the issue is not resolved at the workplace level, employees can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop unreasonable out-of-hours contact.

Wouldn’t it be simpler for a worker just to ignore an email from the boss or not answer the phone unless the terms of their employment required them to be “on call”?

Journalists possibly come under this category but as a young reporter I remember being tracked down by my editor at a dinner party with my wife at a friend’s house on a Sunday evening and told to get my arse back to the office pronto to finish a report on the local government elections held that weekend. It didn’t matter that I had only been rostered on duty on the Saturday and had left an up-to-date report on the close of counting late that night for the rostered Sunday rounds reporter to follow up on.

But the editor was like a member of The Holy Trinity and like God, his commands were to be obeyed at all costs. And penalty rates were unheard of back then.

Taking another trip in the mind’s Tardis back to those heady days, I wonder how today’s young journalists would cope with the following situation. Maybe it would be a legitimate case for the Fair Works Commission:

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Our little fibro beach cottage at Bargara shook in gale force winds, rain belted against the windows and branches whipped past as Sunday morning dawned.

It was late January, 1966, and Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Dinah was moving down the Queensland coast, causing havoc from the tropical north down to Fraser Island, near Bundaberg. My pregnant young wife looked at me and shook her head.

“You’re not going to work today, John. It’s too dangerous out there…”

Obviously, she was right. But as usual, I was rostered on for Sunday reporting rounds at the Bundaberg News-Mail.

“Don’t worry, I’ll phone the editor and see if he can get another reporter living in town to work today. That shouldn’t be too hard”. I tried to sound confident, but that’s not how I felt.

Cathy looked reassured. Surely he wouldn’t expect anyone to drive over waterlogged roads in these conditions would he?

One slight problem, we didn’t have a phone but there was a public phone booth not far away outside the Post Office. I ventured out to make the call, but I needn’t have bothered.

“Hello Mr H, it’s John here. I just wanted to let you know it’s blowing a gale down here at Bargara, and I don’t want to leave my wife alone…. Could you get another reporter to cover for me today?”

A pause at the other end then, “No, it’s too late for that and the damage this blow is causing throughout the district must be covered.  You’re a reporter - just get yourself into town and do your duty”.

Do my duty? Does he think I’m in the Army or something?  Risk my life, but not for God and country - just a bloody newspaper?

What if I refused point-blank? I’d probably be looking for another new career, and I couldn’t risk that with a modest mortgage and a pregnant wife to look after.

Once again, the omnipotence of God the Editor was paramount. He wasn’t about to change his plans or commandments for a mere junior reporter.

One thing was certain - I wasn’t about to leave Cathy home alone, and she wasn’t about to let me drive into town on my own, so the two of us set out on the slow drive to Rum City.. Cane fields were flattened and power lines were down along the way. Wind gusts buffeted the small VW sideways and water ran across the road in many places.

“If it’s flooded, forget it,” was a slogan still decades away, but somehow we made it unscathed and I dropped Cathy off at her parents home in North Bundaberg before reporting for duty as ordered.

Obviously all sports had been cancelled that weekend, so “God” condescended to assign Geoff, the rostered sports reporter, to assist me in covering the cyclone. We both made numerous calls to police, emergency services and private residents throughout the district and wrote our reports of damaged homes, businesses, power cuts and flooded farms before finishing up around 10.30 pm. God was pleased; He said we had done a good job. Then I had to pick Cathy up and drive back to Bargara, but by then the worst of the blow was over. Cyclone Dinah had started to veer away from the coast toward Lord Howe Island, leaving a trail of havoc in her wake.

We approached our little cottage in a blacked-out street with trepidation. Would it have survived? Surprisingly, yes, but another much more substantial high-blocked house a few doors down the street had lost its roof.

God moves in mysterious ways and the next day dawned bright and clear.  I was on a rostered day off, all seemed good with the world again. Like The Beatles,  I believe in Yesterday, but put it down to experience. I made a silent pledge - if ever I rose to the ranks of editor, I would not ask what mine had of any reporter.

It’s not that he was intentionally cruel and I respected him in many ways, but he never seemed to let empathy stand in the way of a single-minded focus to provide our readers with all he thought they needed to know. 

The quote is an extract from the author's memoir Don't call me Nev.

 

 

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About the Author

John Mikkelsen is a long term journalist, former regional newspaper editor, now freelance writer formerly of Gladstone in CQ, but now in Noosa. He is also the author of Amazon Books memoir Don't Call Me Nev.

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