Friday, September 05, 2003


I went for a job interview on Wednesday, and all I got was this lousy empathy for suicide bombers

Unlike Polly Toynbee and Barbara Ehrenreich, I’m no minimum-wage-job tourist.

Which explains why, when I went for an airport baggage handler job “group interview” on Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting to see and hear rock-bottom – I had genuinely thought (based on a perception that baggage handlers were highly unionised and relatively well-paid) that the job could have some monetary upside. In the end, it was three and a half hours of time, and about eight dollars worth of precious petrol wasted. “Wasted” that is, unless you count this blog posting.

First, to set the scene for my enthusiasm. The job multi-vacancy (“20 positions”) only went live on the Job Network system on Tuesday; with the group interview (choice of 12 noon or 3 pm) the very next day – a breakneck recruitment pace which I assumed would have put the odds on my side. It would not only pretty much exclude the currently-employed, it would also presumably sort the sheep from the goats among the unemployed.

Otherwise, in the fashion of Job Network (and private job agencies generally), the info for the job gave little away, other than the expected hours – usual start 5 am. Another “tick” in my favour, I thought – hardly a dream hour to be starting at (and therefore enough to put-off the ambivalent from even bothering to apply), but also an hour that should attract some kind of fiscal bonus for working at.

At my 3 pm group interview, there were about 50 men – not a single woman. The men’s age range had a heavy cluster in the late teens to mid 20s, then a less-strong, but evenly-spaced cohort from the late 20s across to the late 30s, after which it dropped-off almost totally. Of the remainder, there were two guys who looked mid 40s and one who looked late 50s. Of the former, there was one “Big Brother” alumnus (who I’ll allow the dignity of not being named).

We were told that out of 120 interviewees across the two sessions, there were ten job vacancies. Oops – it’s always great for the odds to be doubled from under your feet, as you run. The name of the company was revealed – Aero-Care Pty Ltd – whose chief thing, apparently, is doing the baggage handling for Virgin Blue (an airline half-owned by scab-meisters Patrick Corp). Double oops – this meant that the pay and conditions were likely to be rock bottom. But, but, but . . . surely, given the bargaining power of baggage handlers (viz if they go on strike, then yada-yada) “rock bottom” couldn’t mean rock bottom?

Well, you my readers, can decide. At $16.30 per hour (casual) with no shift loadings, this translates (using the 20% casual-to-permanent discount conversion rate) to $13 per hour (permanent). Which, sure enough, on a 38 hour week basis, is the current entry-level weekly wage of $494.60 under the Airline Operations (Transport Workers') Award, and a whole $46.20 a week above the current, absolute minimum wage floor. When you factor in the mandatory cost of car ownership (no public transport is available) and pay-parking in the airport backblocks (i.e. minibus to actual work) at $2/day, it seems clear that the effective living wage is well below a nominal minimum wage job which is serviced by public transport.

Oh, and in case you didn’t guess it already, the company is proud to note that none of its employees has ever taken industrial action – all said with a “One big happy family” spin, of course.

After the group interview, we were sent into the foyer to form two queues, for the purposes of having quick one-on-one interviews. The atmosphere is the foyer was quite tense – 120 men, almost all under 40, going for one of ten jobs. Never mind that they were badly-paid, bad-hours, casual roles – this was somehow an opportunity, a challenge. I add that I was swept up in at the time, too.

As you would have guessed by now, I didn’t get the call the next day.

Oh, and not once during the group interview was the topic of security clearance/vetting mentioned. I’m sure that there is such a process, but clearly it’s not a front-end one. After all, once a sizeable pool of the rock-bottom-wage ready’n’willing has been established, there’s plenty of time to sift out any bad eggs, and replace them from within the pool. It’s better that way – planting and reinforcing the idea in their heads that they are infinitely more cheap and disposable than the luggage they handle. And a sound basis for recruiting Workers Who can be Trusted Not to be Terrorists* is, of course, to trawl, obligation-free, among the young and the desperate.

* Bilal Khazal was a Qantas baggage handler, whose ranks appear to be strongly unionised, and as a result are paid vastly better rates (not necessarily nominally, but certainly when it comes to overtime and allowances, neither of which apply to casuals) than Virgin Blue’s outsourced equivalents. This is currently changing, however, with Qantas now joining in the race to the murky bottom.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?