Let’s spare a thought for Duncan Storrar, a man who for all his alleged faults, has faced the full and terrifying onslaught of the News Limited press this week.
But let’s also talk about that other titan of the corporate press, Fairfax, because this story is not only about class and disadvantage, but also about the way ordinary people are robbed of their voice and exploited in our newsmaking process. It seems like our nation’s big ideological debates are played out as some grotesque game of totem tennis between large media organisations, with people like Duncan Storrar taking the role of the ball.
We mustn’t lose touch with the personhood — and that includes fallibility — of the people who take on totemic status in our public debate.
As a once-perennial student, I’ve become quite familiar with dipping in and out of Melbourne’s hospitality scene. It surprises me that amongst all the teeth-gnashing and rent-seeking from leading voices in the industry lately about penalty rates, few have mentioned the prevalence of unlawful, irregular employment arrangements that have long allowed many employers to bypass penalty rates and other basic workplace protections entirely. I often wonder how many hospitality businesses would be forced to close were they genuinely required to comply with existing laws.
As scholars of IR policy would know, penalty rates are not only about ensuring workers are fairly compensated for working under exceptional conditions; they are part of a system that protects basic conditions for all workers, guaranteeing things like fair working hours, a decent break between shifts, and weekends. The erosion of penalty rates should be a concern for all working people, and so should desperately under-regulated industrial relations environments like hospitality in Melbourne, where the basic guarantees of fair pay and conditions are being eroded every day.
Depending on how employers arrange it, paying staff a flat rate cash-in-hand can bring huge benefits. Along with reducing pay rates to as low as $10 an hour, ‘off the books’ cash-in-hand work bypasses the higher legal rates for weekends, late nights, overtime, and so on, and also gives employers the ability to evade substantial expenses like income tax and compulsory super contributions. It typically involves bypassing basic workplace protections like unlawful dismissal and workplace discrimination laws, in practice if not in legal fact.
Profit margins are notoriously thin in restaurants and bars, and under-regulation makes it all too tempting for unscrupulous operators to gain a substantial edge over their law-abiding competitors by exploiting some of the lowest paid workers in the country.
It goes without saying that this dynamic fosters unhealthy workplaces where bullying can thrive unchecked or even encouraged by management. And you only have to work in a place like this for a month or so to see the genuine emotional cost this places on workers. It seems to me scandalous that many renowned Melbourne hospitality bosses carry on in this manner with what can only be described as an air of impunity.