Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Spotlight on Mt Druitt Spotlight workers

Yep, they’re the mainly Xers and Yers (I’m guessing) who didn’t become media/Labor darlings for at least long enough to be once-off grandfathered against downwardly-mobile working terms – viz Coffs Harbour boomer (and home-owner, unlike the Mt Druitt crew, I’d also guess) Annette Harris.

But nor does today’s SMH story on the Mount Druitt workers amount to anything of substance.

That they get paid two cents and hour less than their Coffs Harbour (sans Annette Harris) equivalents? Pull-eaze. If journo Phillip Coorey actually thinks that this anomaly makes a real difference, then it’s a situation easily solved by his reaching into his own pocket. Let’s assume – as Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews seems to, of which more about below – that the 40 Mount Druitt workers, despite being casuals, get an ongoing average of 40 hours work each week. At two cents per hour, this adds up to 80 cents per week tops that they’re getting ripped-off for. Multiplied by all forty of them, this is $32 per week. Yes, not a trifle I know, Phillip Coorey, but most likely you spend double that amount on store-made lunches and coffee each week. Try BYOing sandwiches/thermos every second day to work, and you’ll save $32 per week in a snip.

More serious is Kevin Andrews’ assertion (unchallenged by the SMH, despite its patent ridiculousness) that the 40 Mount Druitt workers (of whom 38 were previously unemployed) are now $350 a week better off. With the dole being about $200/week, Andrews is obviously supposing a 40 hour week; viz earnings of ~ $570/week at $14.28 an hour. Here, I’m not even going to try to factor in tax, rent assistance etc, but obviously such omission can only favour the Andrews line of math.

So where does Kevin Andrews – and the SMH – get it so wrong, then? The answer lies in the actual AWA, which guarantees only four hours work a week. Taper rates on very small additional earnings (less than $50/week) are much more benign than for medium-sized additional earnings (of about $150-250/week). For the latter (which roughly equates to 10-18 hours/week), such workers will only be slightly ahead, compared to either working fewer hours, or remaining purely on the dole.

But the real kicker comes in terms of income security. Again, if they only get token hours, there’s no real change. Likewise, if they get no more than about 20 hours/week – above which number of hours their dole would taper to zero.

But if they get even a brief run of full-time (ish) shifts, everything changes. All it takes for the most casually and insecurely employed of casuals in Australia to be cast “off” the dole is six consecutive fortnights of zero “dole” earnings. By “off” the dole, I mean having to reapply for it from scratch, which in generally means serving months' waiting period, during which one has, by definition, no income.

Kevin Andrews saying that the Mount Druitt 40 are now $350 a week better off is a sick joke, then. Leaving aside his dodgy math, if they are currently getting the (very) full-time hours that remotely justify his claim, then they’d better pray that these hours continue for them forever. If these hours drop off substantially (after six fortnights or more), then they’re going to be much worse off, under any measure, than if they’d never started the job. Likewise if they’re sacked for good or bad reason; as long as the boss writes “misconduct” on the separation certificate, that’s an automatic two-month waiting period to serve before they can hope to get a zac.

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