Markets & Justice

Markets & Justice
Freely operating markets yield a just outcome?

White Australia Has A Black History

White Australia Has A Black History

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Workplace exploitation of varying degrees in Australia - and how workers are becoming more vulnerable day by day.


Mark Zirnsak is Victorian and Tasmanian social justice spokesman, Uniting Church; Heather Moore is national policy and advocacy co-ordinator, The Freedom Partnership – End Modern Slavery, The Salvation Army.

Mark and Heather have written a most enlightening article for The Age.  People not involved in employee organisations might be surprised at how often even otherwise good employers might end up in breach of award wages and conditions - which form part of the industrial laws of Australia.  The employers referred to are otherwise good employers who have not set out to defraud or exploit their employees.

Then there are the careless employers.  These are the ones who are ill-informed, ill-educated perhaps who don't try to bring their standards up to anywhere near professional.  They probably would not know what an award was if it bit them in their painful parts.  Their employees are probably offered cash in hand instead of penalty rates and as for a time and wages record - what's that and why bother!

Then there are the third group of employers.  The ones who deliberately set out to defraud and exploit working people.  The proliferation of labour hire companies in modern Australia has made it very easy for fraudsters and exploiters to multiply to the detriment of human society.  In modern Australia, human trafficking continues across a wide number of industries - and in a manner not seen until recently.  Go here to find a number of posts relating to the revelations of human trafficking and exploitation in agriculture in Australia made public last year on ABC's Four Corners. 2015 saw the revelations relating to oppression in the 7-Eleven petrol/convenience store chain.

As Adele Ferguson points out in her article:
With 1.3 million workers in Australia on visas, equivalent to one in 10 of the workforce, it has wider economic implications. Besides undermining the award system, it is potentially robbing the Australian Taxation Office of hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax.

Please note the last sentence because at this point in time the Turnbull Government is indulging in all sorts of cost cutting which will impact widely the most vulnerable Australians.

More could be said of sex slavery in Australia; and of poor Occupational Health & Safety training and conditions which result in severe injuries and even death across many industries; and of the regular exploitation of the 457 system by some employers. 457s are the regulations which allow employers to bring to Australia foreign workers.

Australia has relied strongly over the last century on trade unions and trade union membership to look after the exploited.  However, as Australia enters the 21st Century, union membership and participation has declined and the political situation is such that conservative governments try their best to undermine the union movement. A middle-class Labor movement has not helped the situation either.

So if union power and influence declines and governments will not provide appropriate levels of resources for government instrumentalities who have the purview of a variety of workplace practices, then workplace ethics and practices overall will be at best 'iffy' and at worst a form of slavery ... and there will be widespread exploitation in between these extremes. 

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