Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why do people keep serving Naomi Campbell?

That’s “serving” as in “working for”: as cleaner, personal assistant, etc.

Yep, I acknowledge that this story – which contains the above question – is filed under “celebrity”, and so my taking it too seriously is like crossing some sort of species barrier.

But hello, Lenny Ann Low – lots and lots of people, like servants throughout Asia (ex-Japan, AFAICT) and now increasingly the West, have no viable choice not to work for known psychopaths, or worse.

And I’m not talking about earning piles of money in return for one’s physical and/or psychological endangerment, although I accept as likely that Naomi Campbell pays above the going rate. Here, there appears to be a convenient collective social blindness – boomer-induced and maintained – to do with just how many income-desperate Xers (and-younger) there are in the West.

This was pointedly shown in a weirdly out-of-touch comment by Anne Alexander, a plaintiff lawyer involved in the recent British drug trial that went disastrously wrong – for which participants (all Xers or younger) were paid 2000 pounds (i.e. ~$A5,000):

“It’s commonplace for drug companies to pay people who are involved in clinical trials small amounts of money such as this”.

Five thousand dollars is a “small amount of money?”. For a boomer, maybe. While I don’t know the “work” hours that were required by the ill-fated UK trial (i.e. did it involve overnight stays, or just the more usual handful of hour-or-two visits for briefing/jabs/follow-up?), my direct experience from an Australian medical trial (being jabbed with an experimental vaccine, five non-telephone visits of 4.5 hours total) is that the going rate for being a medical guinea pig is $600 plus travel costs, with “no charge” (!!!) for the vaccine itself. And for $600, I should add, the “work” involved seems fine with me (I’m currently on their waiting list).

In other workplace news, the Cowra abattoir workers storm seems to have blown over, in a nick of time. The Right clearly has egg on its face right now, so it’s going to be interesting to see when they feel brave enough to publicly state that employers should have the legal right to do what the Cowra abattoir did sustantively; i.e. to fire (for "genuine operational reasons") and then re-hire (in whole or part) at a lower wage rate.

On freedom of contract grounds, I think that the Right has an excellent case to be shouting from the rooftops here – although it needs to be said that the Cowra employer didn’t follow quite the correct procedure. Here’s the Right’s proper How-to script.

Firstly, the Cowra employees were/are presumably covered by an award or collective agreement, which is to say a contract that sets out (inter alia) their wages. This contract will have an expiry date (that is probably well into the future), but at any time it can, of course, be varied by mutual agreement. That is, employees are free (or if they aren’t under the new law, they certainly should be) to vote themselves a pay cut. Such has been common for years in the US airline industry, for example, which has seen ageing (=mostly boomer) airline crews repeatedly volunteer their wages to go down to the point that they are almost working for free (if they were Xers, they might be styled “interns”), so as to (i) allow the otherwise-bankrupt airline employer to keep flying, and (ii) to preserve their (looming) retirement benefits.

What the Cowra employer should have done, then, is to (a) simply sack (for "genuine operational reasons") those it didn’t want to keep even at lower wages, and (b) not sack the rest, but offer them a “choice” – they volunteer for a lower wage, or the whole shebang gets shut down. A majority of employees, I suspect, would grudgingly so volunteer (meaning the abattoir stays open), while the recalcitrant minority can be otherwise dealt with (but legally probably still not sacked, since this would be “discrimination”, even under the new Act).

See, it’s not that hard, is it Freehills? So get to work – although I’m sure that you actually have, already, only that it’s apparently un-newsworthy white-collar workers who have quietly got the accept-lower-wages-or-else ultimatum.

Also interesting in the Cowra abattoir case was the statement of one worker that with his wage poised to go from $880 to $580 a week, he would be better off claiming the dole. At the purely fiscal level I take his word for this – it obviously would not be possible for a single person to be better-off here, but as fellow Xer single (I assume) Janet Albrechtsen reminds us today, voters with kids (the speaker has three) are the Howard government’s darlings. I do note, however, that despite “being better off on the dole”, it does not automatically follow that one is eligible for it. Indeed, to refuse or to resign from a job paying $580 a week definitely disqualifies one from the dole.

Which means that by staunching the smell from Cowra for the moment, the government has bought time on another grizzly policy killing-floor: reducing welfare payments (as in dollars going to existing recipients), “voluntarily” or otherwise.

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