Workchoices may be making a sly return under a secret Abbott government plan to abolish minimum wage and penalty rates in Victoria, according to Premier Daniel Andrews.
If the Abbott government decides to change penalty rates, hundreds of thousands of Victorian workers could face wage cuts of up to 33%. A significant number of these employees work weekends, overtime and night shifts on a usual basis. While the nature of the proposed changes remains unclear, if the government decides to cut penalty rates it will be an enormous burden to shoulder for hard working Australians already struggling to make ends meet.
By reducing the rights of workers, we allow businesses and employers to create an environment of coercion and unfairness in the workplace. If an employee is just barely making enough money each week to cover their rent, food and bills, it is unlikely that individual will risk their job by asking or demanding for better working conditions or overtime pay. I have personally spoken to people who have been asked to stay past business hours without remuneration, and these individuals expressed concerns that were they to challenge the decisions of their employer, they would have their employment terminated.
In a job market where the ratio of jobseekers to jobs available is around ten to one, employers are in a position where replacing a difficult member of staff is easier than ever, and if we remove protections for workers we’re likely to see the quality, safety and honesty of workplaces deteriorate across the country.
In my recent article on the welfare system in Australia and the potential for Basic Income as a replacement, I outlined the way in which a guaranteed income for every citizen gives workers the freedom to negotiate better workplace conditions with their employers. Without the threat of financial ruin, employees are secure in the knowledge that even if their contract is terminated should they make a complaint about the conditions of their employment, they do not face bankruptcy or financial ruin. This allows, and encourages, honest and open dialogue between employer and employee, and would almost certainly improve workplace standards across the board for both business owners and workers alike.
Whatever direction we choose to take, it seems clear that protecting the rights of workers is instrumental to a dynamic, progressive and safe economy.
In the wake of the mudslinging directed at Gillian Triggs over her, in my opinion, necessary report on the state of care in our detention camps, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has released a new position statement, claiming that children in immigration detention should be held for no longer than three days, and that the practice should only be used as a last resort.
As of last October, the average length of detention of a child in Australia was 14 months.
The statement goes on to describe the policy of mandatory detention as “detrimental to development and mental health and has the potential to cause long-term damage to social and emotional functioning”.
Dr Murray Patton spoke to the potential long term damages of the policy, saying that “the level of mental health disorders recorded indicates there will potentially be an ongoing need to support and treat these children even once they leave detention whether in Australia or elsewhere. Traumatic events, such as being detained for a prolonged period, can lead to mental illness in adults.” It seems likely then that current policy is likely to cost Australia more over time than the government is willing to admit or consider.
The detention of children is in contravention of Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by parliament in 1990, with article 37(b) stating:
“Detention must be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time; children must not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.”
It seems clear that the deprivation of liberty the current government is responsible for is at the least arbitrary. What threat do children possibly pose to the social and economic status of the nation? How is a policy that has been demonstrated to cause long term damage to social and emotional functioning forging a secure social and economic future for Australia.
If we, as a matter of policy, are engaged in the psychological abuse of children, there must be immediate review into those responsible for the creation of said policy and the departments they oversee and represent. The treatment of asylum seekers and political refugees under Australia’s immigration policies has drawn condemnation and criticism from human rights advocacy groups across the globe, it has well passed the time that we started listening.
Agencies responsible for the care of homeless Australians have reported a proposed cutting of $115 million in federal funding, putting the lives of women feeling domestic violence and rough sleepers at risk.
This comes less than a fortnight after Tony Abbot’s proposal to earmark around $400 million for mandatory data retention, despite the EU Court of Justice ruling that almost identical programs overseas are a serious threat to human rights and privacy concerns, and are woefully ineffective in preventing terrorism and related acts of violence.
To put the situation into perspective, in 2013 there were 44 family violence-related deaths in Victoria, over 65,000 related calls to Victoria Police and an estimated cost as of 2009 of $3.4 billion dollars. Violence against women remains the biggest contributor to illness and premature death in women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
Terrorism related deaths of Australian citizens, not per annum, but across the entire history of the nation, including those not on Australian soil number at 108 as of 2014.
How much has the government set aside for an issue affecting tens of thousands of Victorians, and likely hundreds of thousands if not millions nationwide? Thirty six million dollars. Less than a tenth of what Abbott’s administration proposes to spend on spying wholesale on its own people.
Last week’s Q&A was a poignant and necessary broaching of the subject of domestic violence and the effect it has on Australian women, yet the lack of senior government officials was telling. For a problem as severe as this, which affects more than one in three women, the government’s lack of a targeted response is not only insulting to the citizenry, it is downright dangerous.
The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, an agreement between the states, territories and the federal government, will expire on the 30th of June, with Canberra notably silent on the continuation of the agreement. If the funding is not renewed, more than 3,000 staff who provide support for over 80,000 homeless Australians will be affected. These staff help to provide food, shelter and counselling for the homeless, an invaluable service that not only aids people in dragging themselves out of abject poverty, but helps to prevent theft and violence as a result.
The urgency of the situation has been communicated to the government at Senate estimates, with Glenda Stevens, chief executive of Homelessness Australia stating that they “spoke clearly about the number of people who are in need, about the women and children escaping domestic violence. It’s disappointing that the government is not giving priority to the most vulnerable people in Australia.”
More than fifty homeless organisations have made an unprecedented move on the issue, sending an open letter to Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, pleading with him not to end funding to the sector.
In a representative democracy, when a unanimous call to action from the people supposedly being represented by the government is ignored, faith in government is eroded. The state has a responsibility not just to those most desperately in need of assistance, but also to those who provide that assistance. Again, it seems that the cries of generous and selfless Australians in the support of human rights are falling on deaf ears.