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Howe Inquiry into insecure work rolls into town

INSECURE work was shown to be rife in Tasmania as case after case of workers’ employment struggles was brought before the Howe Inquiry when it visited Hobart last Friday. The inquiry is looking at the impacts of insecure work on Australian workers, their families and communities, with hearings across the country. Brian Howe chaired the Hobart hearing, with Sara Charlesworth as Deputy Chair. The inquiry heard from a range of workers diverse industries, from nurses to retail workers. Read the summary of the Hobart hearing below.


INSECURE work was shown to be rife in Tasmania as case after case of workers’ employment struggles was brought before the Howe Inquiry when it rolled into Hobart on Friday March 2.

The inquiry is looking at the impacts of insecure work on Australian workers, their families and communities, with hearings across the country.

Brian Howe chaired the Hobart hearing, with Sara Charlesworth as Deputy Chair.

The inquiry heard from a range of workers diverse industries, from nurses to retail workers.

Secure employment under attack in Tasmania

TASMANIA has the highest amount of its workforce employed part-time than any other state.

This was just one of the facts CPSU General Secretary Tom Lynch addressed at the Howe Inquiry on Friday. The figures speak for themselves:

Part-time employment in Tasmania is 35.7% compared to 29.9% nationally

Tasmania also has the lowest monthly hours worked per employee than any other state – 131.8 hours on average.

Tasmania also has the highest unemployment rate, underemployment rate and the lowest participation rate of any state.

We’re also performing poorly when it comes to qualifications – 47.6% are without a post-school qualification – a figure above the national average of 43.5%.

Tom said job security in the state is very much under attack from both the state government and the TCCI. The TCCI is calling on the Tasmanian government to scrap permanent tenure policies in the public sector. This is concerning, because Tasmania has the highest percentage of employees in public employment.

With difficult economic times set to continue, Tom Lynch reported insecure working arrangements are likely to continue and increase over the next few years.

One thing is certain, when it comes to insecure work in Tasmania; the statistics speak for themselves and paint a very bleak picture.

Women in the Tasmanian workplace find it tough

THE inquiry heard about barriers to women participating in the workforce on Friday.

Acting Convenor of Women’s Committee Angela Briant and UTAS researcher Dr Megan Alessandrini spoke about research into women’s’ barriers to the workforce. Barriers included job network providers and attitudes.

The research found most women; particularly older women had issues with job network providers. According to the report, older women felt that men and younger women were sent to interviews and they weren’t. The research also found that these providers tended to focus on entry level jobs, and women weren’t given the training or support to navigate selection processes.

Underemployment was another issue the report uncovered. This was common on the North-West Coast, due to the contraction of a lot of industries. Women in this region called jobs “jobettes”, with jobs mostly in hospitality and retail.

These women said they often were waiting by the phone, and not going out in case their manager called for work. However, they felt that they were not getting the same loyalty from their employers.

Some said they feared if they turned down work they would be fired. The research found some women with children felt judged by society, when it came to working.

Nurses, patients suffer thanks to insecure work

NURSES are doing it tough in Tasmania, with fixed term contracts rife in the state.

The Howe Inquiry heard from ANF state secretary Neroli Ellis, and three nurses on Friday who spoke about the problems fixed-term and causal nursing were creating.

The ANF Secretary said Tasmania had the oldest nursing workforce in Australia, and faced a dire shortage within the next five years. She said the budget cuts had created a situation of casualization, which the ANF believed was affecting patient care. One quarter of nurses were on rolling, ongoing fixed term contracts. Neroli Ellis said 220 nurses were on no contract at all.

This year there were 57.8 FTE nursing graduates employed – compared to 169 FTE last year.

“There’s no security for graduates, “she said. Nurses were going interstate for work, with many nurses who were left working double and other unsafe shifts to make up for roster shortages.

Fixed term contracts mean difficulty buying houses. Casual nurses could be called at 5am in the morning to work, with many graduates also sitting around waiting for a nursing position to become available. Casual staff had a mere 20% loading.

Two public sector nurses spoke of the impact of casual labour on the handover period in the ICU at the inquiry. One nurse said on one occasion nurses had to write down everything they wanted the casual nurse to know, because they started one hour later, and there was no handover period. The inquiry heard nurses often had to “babysit” other patients while they were waiting for the casual worker to start. Sometimes there was a block of time where there was no one to look after patients. The inquiry heard permanent nurses often worked overtime, missing breaks and staying late so they could do duties like write up notes. Causal workers often missed out on training, which meant they weren’t as highly skilled as permanent workers.

Registered nurse Heidi Southwell told the inquiry about her experience in Tasmania, working for two-and-a-half years with DHHS.

Heidi said nursing “chose her”, and spoke of a desire to care for people in need. She studied at UTAS for three years, two of which were in Launceston.

Graduating in August 2009, Heidi applied for work at Hobart hospitals, deciding on a job in the public sector to get more experience.

After working on the medical ward for a year, Heidi took up a contract at the Tasmanian Neurological Unit. Ï liked it, and my contract kept being renewed, “she said. In 2011 she studied a certificate in

Neurosurgical Nursing to learn more. “I was keen to gain permanency,” she said. “My dream was shattered six months ago.” The State Government announced cutbacks in all areas of health. “I thought my job would be safe,” Heidi said. But her contract expired in February, with the Human Resources department refusing to renew it. Heidi said she was told she didn’t fit the criteria for permanency.

“My biggest fear is I’ll have to go back to my teenage job as a checkout chick at Coles. “No nurse should have to do that. “I love being a nurse – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” Heidi said hundreds of skilled and experienced nurses were in the same position, which made her frustrated and angry, saying that patients were going to suffer.

Heidi, 27, had to move back in with her parents because it was too difficult to rent a house, with real estate agents wanting tenants with a stable income. Currently she is working in neurosurgery on a week-to-week basis. Leaving Tasmania is a last resort for Heidi. “I want to contribute to Tasmania’s struggling economy, “she said.

Secure employment a difficult task for Tasmanian manufacturing workers

MANUFACTURING workers are also fighting an uphill battle, when it comes to secure employment, the Howe Inquiry heard on Friday.

AMWU State Secretary John Short told the Howe Inquiry it was difficult time for workers, who were having trouble accessing home loans and other finance due to insecure work.

He said he believed a recent statement about employees choosing to work casually because they enjoyed the casual loading was certainly not something he’d come across.

John spoke of a woman on the North-West Coast who was recently permanently employed in a food processing plant after almost 18 years of casual work for the company. Over the years she’d worked a lot of overtime and shift work. The AMWU helped her get permanency. “Her story is not unusual, “he said.

John also said he didn’t believe casual loading was enough to compensate for leave entitlements, which permanent workers enjoyed.

He said workers were frightened to bring up permanent employment with their managers, fearing if they voiced concerns they would not get work.

He suggested casual conversion clause cases, which were currently heard by the Federal Court, should be prosecuted by Fair Work Australia – a more appropriated venue for hearing industrial rights cases.

He described a three-speed economy – the mining industry, the rest of Australia, then Tasmania.

The food industry was one area under a lot of stress, with the two major supermarket chains putting pressure on suppliers.

John said this industry once had a large number of permanent employees and a pool of seasonal workers. Now there is less seasonal work and more casual labour, with a larger pool of casual workers meaning fewer hours were available, because work was spread across more people.

He also described the culture as an “industrial apartheid” where one group of workers was treated differently to another.

Insecure work for education staff in Tasmania

AEU Research Officer Jeff Garsed said told the Howe Inquiry one of the main areas of insecure work in Tasmanian education was for support staff.

These workers are stood down without pay during the summer holiday break and between terms – up to 12 weeks a year.

Insufficient hours of employment spread across different days mean support staffs were often unable to work another job.

For teachers, Jeff said fixed term contracts had increased. Also, many teachers returning to work after maternity leave were underemployed, and found it difficult to find work.

The inquiry heard from two education workers Polytechnic teacher Glynn Howells, and Devonport based teacher assistant Melissa Connors.

Glynn started as a sessional employee with the Polytechnic in 2006. In 2008 he secured a 0.75 FTE part time contract. In 2010 he got another 0.25% FTE contract with the Polytechnic. In 2011 low student enrolment meant his Conservation and Land Management course didn’t run. This year, he lost his .25% contract – a 25% loss in work and income, with the course again under threat. Glynn is concerned his position may not be required in the future, especially with the budget cuts looming.

“I have no ongoing job security,” he said.

Melissa has worked for the Department of Education for 14 years. Permanently employed as a teacher assistant for 25 hours a week, she said she is one of the lucky ones. The hardest part of her job is the unpaid stand down period. The Easter break can be paid, however this comes off leave loading.

The period without pay meant Melissa needed to work a casual job, often after working at the school; she does a shift for her second job. This means long days, but Melissa said financially she needed to take work when it was available.

“We often have to borrow money,” she said. Getting health insurance is also difficult, because Melissa can’t afford to pay it every month because of the unpaid stand down.

She said work was often given to new aides, which meant a longer period for aides looking to get permanency.

Other staffs, such as lab technicians and groundsmen were paid for the holiday break. Deputy chair Sara Charlesworth described the situation for support staff as a “historical anomaly”.

Retail workers find it tough

MINIMUM pay and minimum hours were two issues SDA Secretary Paul Griffin raised at the Howe Inquiry last week.

He said a 16 year old working in the fast food industry could be paid as low as $5 per hour.

Paul said for students working between 3-6.30pm, the minimum number of hours was now one and a half hours. He said it was an attack on the fundamentals of employment. The SDA appealed to the Federal Court about this decision in February, and is waiting for an outcome.

The SDA Secretary said workers, particularly in fast food, hospitality and retail, worked week to week, often relying on a certain amount of hours. He said “flexible” employment was often to the detriment of workers.

In conversion from casual to full time work, Paul said the SDA often hears casual employees saying things like “I’m trying to get a part-time job – they keep fobbing me off; I’m doing a 30 hour week”.

The inquiry also heard some positive news from the SDA. In some areas, Paul Griffin said casual employment worked for employees, who were able to fill out an availability documents, where they could put down the hours they were available. Brian Howe described this as “planned casualization”.

Brian Howe said in retail casualisation was about discounting skill, with permanent staff more likely to receive training.

The Inquiry also heard from SDA member Peter Reid, who’d worked in a number of casual and part-time retail jobs since moving to Tasmania.

Working casually for hardware store Bunnings, after requesting time off over Christmas to visit family interstate, he was told this would result in termination. After the union got involved, Bunnings granted him the requested three weeks off. Soon after, Bunnings announced to staff all casual shifts were cancelled around Christmas.

Since taking time off, he’s only had two shifts, saying he feels like he was punished for getting the union involved.

A highly skilled cabinet maker, Peter said he could contribute well to the Bunnings team and provide customers with a good service.

Peter said he was looking at the possibility of retraining, with not much work in cabinet making currently because of a building downturn.

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