Marty McKenzie-Murray

…of The Saturday Paper and feedingthechooks.com is a garrulous individual.

I’m serious.

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#IStandWithDuncan

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.

Cut Penalty Rates? What Penalty Rates?

I was a student for a long time and I spent most of that time trying to provide for myself by working in hospitality. It surprises me that amongst all the teeth-gnashing and rent-seeking from leading voices in the industry about penalty rates, few have mentioned the prevalence of unlawful cash-in-hand arrangements that have long allowed many employers to bypass penalty rates and other basic workplace protections entirely. The problem is so widespread that I often wonder how many hospitality businesses would be forced to close if they were genuinely required to comply with existing laws.

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 working people in all industries, as should the many hospitality businesses that refuse to give staff the most basic guarantees of fair pay and conditions.

Depending on how it’s arranged, paying staff a flat rate cash-in-hand can save hospo bosses huge amounts of cash. Along with reducing base pay rates well below the legal award, ‘off the books’ cash-in-hand work tends to ignore higher rates for weekends, late nights, long hours and so on, and allows employers to evade income tax and compulsory super contributions. Off the books employment also lets exploitative bosses bypass 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 lax policing, high employee churn and low union membership makes it all too tempting for dodgy operators to gain a competitive edge 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 puts 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.

jerome