Work/death balance

There’s a very tragic story being reported about the death of a young Melbourne woman, Sally Sandic, who took her life at age 21. Her parents are contemplating suing her employer, Telstra, as they believe that pressure to exceed sales targets and not to take stress leave contributed to her death. The facts are in dispute, and I make no judgement on them. But there’s no doubt that stress and distress at work cause much pain, and do much damage to mental as well as physical health. In the era of WorkChoices, it now appears to be unquestioned wisdom among the government and the press that work is some form of duty, and ought to be central to our lives, for longer and longer, according to the Prime Minister and Treasurer, as Tim Dunlop observes.

Just because he wants to keep doing what he’s doing forever doesn’t mean he gets to tell the rest of the country that they should too, let alone suggest that they are jeopardising the country’s future by daring to think about “earlyâ€? retirement. People are able to make up their own mind about how long they work without getting a self-satisfied lecture from the self-satisfied PM about when they should stop working.

Talk about a nanny-state: the desires of the individual are meant to be sacrificed for the greater good of the economy.

Remember when the underlying assumption of a good society was that work wasn’t the be-all and end-all of existence? That a “good economyâ€? was one that let people enjoy their leisure time rather than demand that they enslave themselves to the demands of the market?

How sustainable is this? With the response to capacity constraints in the economy being to try to soak up more and more people into the labour market – the ageing, the disabled, single parents – do we ever stop to question the social costs of “flexible” hours and highly competitive service work, to name just a couple of symptoms of the exaltation of labour above all else? Do we stop to consider the hidden injuries of unceasing work? Perhaps we just don’t have the time.

NB: Please read these comments where I try to clarify that my intention wasn’t to make a direct link between Ms Sandic’s death and any partisan concerns, or to politicise it. What I’m seeking to highlight is that the circumstances, as stated by her parents, do go to showing how serious the mental health implications of work-induced stress may be. If I’d posted about the death of a worker on a construction site, I don’t know that the same concerns would have arisen in exactly the same way, but I don’t want to be misconstrued as doing anything other than wanting to start a discussion about the serious nature of work related mental health issues and the workplace and legal climates which exacerbate them.

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95 comments on “Work/death balance
  1. There just isn’t enough workers to go around in Australia.

    More workers = the work can be shared, and nobody has to work themselves to death.

  2. Kim,
    The suicide of any person is devastating on their family and friends. Trying to link, even by implication, WorkChoices to to any person’s suicide is, I assure you, a place you do not want to go.

  3. Yes Andrew, the connection is rather thin, even by the loose evidentiary standards of LP.

    I wonder if anyone who has ever had contact with the PMG & Telecom would have imagined that it would be alleged (in earnest) that a Telstra staff would die of pressure.

  4. Kim says:

    I’m not, Andrew, what I’m pointing to is a climate where stress at work can be a contributing factor to suicide and mental dis-ease generally. That’s not controversial, I think. I also think that unrealistic performance targets, increased employment insecurity, remuneration tied to appraisals replacing automatic wage rises over the life of an agreement (common under many AWAs), a shift in the power balance in the workplace, and other things which are facilitated by WorkChoices can increase stress. I’m not trying to be controversial, but I am trying to say that in an ideological climate where work is central, and deemed to be central normatively, that workplace related health problems (which go beyond physical injury and extend to mental health issues) are likely to be found more widely. And sadly, sometimes mental health problems lead to death. Note that I reported the claims made by the parents with regard to their daughter’s state of mind, but also said they were contested, and declined to adjudicate on them. How could I?

  5. Kim says:

    steve at the pub, I think you’d find, if you cared to inquire, that telco (including Telstra) call centres are very high pressure work environments.

  6. Mark says:

    I had a student last year who got a job in an Optus call centre – as a “contractor” – which meant that he was paid below the award wage – $10 an hour. Any reasonable remuneration was tied solely to the achievement of sales targets, which were set at an unachievable level. These sorts of inbound call centres are the ones you ring to complain about your mobile phone bill or something and where the employee then tries to sell you a product, which you almost certainly don’t want, because you’re shitty with your telephone company anyway. Turnover is very high, because the work is frustrating, closely supervised, and badly paid. A lot of the time the employees are backpackers or students, who can put up with it for a bit, but usually leave when they find that the “rewards” promised never arrive. But those who work in call centres full time, almost all women, and mostly unskilled, and in many cases having little labour market experience, are also on crazy shifts, and tend to get around 30-35k a year. Hence the pressure to achieve bonuses.

    And, Andrew, I think Kim was very careful in the post not to make that link.

  7. From what I have seen the first reaction of family and friends to suicide is denial. This appears to be the phase they are in. It is unlikely to be a period in which a balanced appraisal of her state of mind is likely to arise.
    It is, IMHO, much safer and more meaningful to look at statistical data relating to suicides and then perform analysis. By this I mean such things as looking at areas where suicides are higher or lower than average and doing appropriate analysis and speculating on the results.
    Proceeding like this, by anecdote from a family that must be very upset, is only ever going to personalize what is a tragedy for them. This can only be perceived to be, particularly with reference only to government policy, for party political purposes.
    If you want to proceed with this I suggest a discussion on work stress generally, rather than personalizing it through a family’s tragedy.

  8. Kim says:

    Well, Andrew, I accept that, and I didn’t intend to make a partisan point of this. The sort of Stakhanovite mentality I’m talking about is, I’m sure, shared by Rudd and many others within the Labor party.

    I’d agree with you about the distress Ms Sandic’s parents must be feeling, and they may well be over-stating the degree to which her work situation contributed to her state of mind. But I did think it was important to highlight the fact that as well as physical injury from work (which most discussion of workplace health and safety focuses around) there are often significant mental costs.

    I’m more than happy to have a discussion on that. After all, as I said, we can’t know what Ms Salic’s reasons were.

    I’d also be interested if anyone happens to know of any data on depression/mental illness associated with work.

  9. I’m sorry Mark, I can’t agree. To discuss a particular suicide in the same post, let alone in the same paragraph, is, IMHO, to give the appearance of a link, even if, as I accept, it was unintended.
    It is your blog, therefore your rules, but it is my opinion that this is getting into dangerous moral grounds.

  10. Kim says:

    Andrew, please read my previous comment which probably crossed with yours. I think there are legitimate issues raised by what the parents said about her employer’s alleged pattern of behaviour, but I don’t want either to make a direct link, or to focus the discussion about it.

    I’m sorry now I didn’t make that clearer in the post.

  11. I would agree it is important to highlight that – I would suggest adding in a discussion of the effects of unemployment to add some balance. I just find the way the topic was introduced to be questionable, at best.

  12. melaleuca says:

    I worked in workers’ compensation for over 10 years. People do suicide due to work pressures. Period.

  13. Kim says:

    Fair call, Andrew. I’ve added a note to the post.

    With regard to unemployment, I suspect there is more research on, and discussion of, the effects of lack of work on mental health than the effects of too much, too intense, or too alienating or unsatisfying work on mental health.

  14. Kim says:

    melaleuca, are you aware of any studies or data collection on incidences and causes?

  15. melaleuca says:

    Sorry, Kim, I’m unaware of any such figures. I can only talk from experience.

  16. Kim says:

    Thanks anyway!

  17. Styx says:

    Kim, I can’t guarantee it but, you may find some of the statistics you seek at, or through, Comcare Australia’s Information Portal on Stress and Psychological injury at http://www.comcare.gov.au/stress_and_psychological_injury_information_portal

  18. Kim says:

    Thanks Styx, appreciate that. I’ll have a look tomorrow – just heading off to sleep now.

  19. Nabakov says:

    So do we work to live or live to work?

  20. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Well, I’ve just this minute filed my weekly copy, so at the moment it’s definitely the latter.

  21. Adam Gall says:

    There is something also to be said about dead-end service industry jobs as perhaps the place where some of these issues really come into their own. I’ve seen many of my peers drift around between those kinds of jobs for years and years, and few of those people seems to be anywhere further ahead than they were after high school. For me, working in a call centre is a vision of hell, and I’ll gladly take my pittance from the university to avoid it, or similar. Having said that, I do know a few people in ‘good’ call centre work with some perks and a decent wage.

  22. steve says:

    It is the ‘John has a Mental illness- Invest with the benefits in mind’ pdf that is relevant here.

  23. Darlene says:

    Very sad story. So young.

    Can’t make comments on the specific case, but call centres can be very dehumanising places to work. It’s all about the statistics. This must be even more so in call centres that are profit driven (I worked in an information-based federal government one).

    Andrew’s comments about the family are unfair and presumptious. Sure, we don’t know the facts of the case, but we are certainly living in an environment were work rules (government policies assist this no end).

  24. Carol says:

    Workplaces have a long way to go with dealing with work-related stress and depression. The attitude of management does nothing to lift the standard of attitude of the employees either. For instance, a recent death of an employee from non-depressive related illness prompted all round counselling on the day we were told, flowers to be organised and memory books for staff to write in and send to the family, whilst two people who are on extended leave for stress are mocked and joked about as really going on a fishing trip or such like.

  25. Bingo Bango Boingo says:

    Shorter Tim Dunlop: the PM is not allowed to express an opinion about when people should retire. What other topics are on Tim’s banned list? Then he gets slightly confused about what the phrase ‘nanny-state’ means. To top it off, he constructs an absurd straw-man in implicitly condemning Howard for believing that work is “the be-all and end-all of existence”. Pathetic.

    By contrast, Kim actually poses some interesting questions about the hidden costs of (sometimes) very hard work. Kim, next time you’ve got something interesting to say, try not to preface it with the quite frankly infantile rantings of the Blogocracy guy.

    BBB

  26. 1. First I would like to support the description by Mark above of the Optus call centre environment. was trained by Optus in 1993 and ran a pod of 80 of those poor exploited ‘backpackers & students, etc’.
    Their legal ‘contractor’ status, absolved Optus from remitting their PAYE Tax to the Commonwealth.

    2. ‘Telstra’ is not ‘them’, it is The Shareholders/Us/You.

    3. Don’t leave out Centrelink call centres. Very scary. That was my last employment. Very very scary on the answering end of those phones, sandwiched between the HATE from some of the ‘clients’, and the control/fear of the supervisors.

    4. re “work related mental health issues and the workplace and legal climates which exacerbate them” – Very very few actually like,/i> their job, surely ?

  27. insider says:

    The girl was apparently a “good worker” and high performer according to a Telstra spokesman. Unfortunately call centre work is monitored in detail, and performance targets are aggressive.

    It is likely this culture penalised the girl for being intelligent and highly capable at her job. When she started, she probably achieved high results. The response of her supervisor was probably to set her unachievably high targets, linked to performance bonuses.

    The girl would have initially been thrilled with the praise and her good results, and then progressively stressed and depressed as she found herself unable to meet the unrealistic targets. Being young and inexperienced, she probably had no idea the problem was not with her.

    Telstra call centres are well known for using this type of aggressive performance management, together with casualisation techniques to prevent complaints. This type of environment is formalised and protected by Work Choices.

    It is a crying shame that people like John Howard, who has probably never worked in a hard job in his life, will never experience that sort of workplace.

  28. insider says:

    The response of the Telstra spokesman on television was significant. I would say the girls’ parents have a good case if they decide to take it further.

  29. It is a crying shame that people like John Howard, who has probably never worked in a hard job in his life, will never experience that sort of workplace.

    While I agree with almost all of insider’s post, I disagree with this point. Mr Howard has worked just as hard, and in a much tenser environment, as a Telstra call centre.

    Workchoices, and the ‘hard work is good for the country’ mindset is being pushed by driven, aggressive people who think the rest of us should be like them, not lazy people who want to sit at the top of the pile doing nothing.

    It’s important to remember that, as Mark said, more and more people who were previously in ‘customer service’ roles now have upselling targets, which is raising the stress levels greatly in call centres, which are already like battery farms.

    Oh, and GoAwayBrownie – you’ve worked in a Centrelink call centre? My commiserations.

  30. Sorry, Darlene, but I must disagree. My comments were not, I feel, unfair. An individual’s decision to take their own life is (almost) always a tragedy – with the sole exclusion being voluntary euthanasia.
    It would be an attempt to blame a company or a person for their suicide without evidence, just our personal prejudice or belief systems, that would be truly unfair and presumptious. I accept Kim did not try to do this.
    If it does go to court I would be interested in the outcome, but once it is in the hands of the lawyers (apologies, SL) it is unlikely to be treated sensitively and with appropriate respect.
    The sort of argument that Steve has linked to is useful and persuasive – individual anecdote, particularly under such tragic circumstances, is not.

  31. prettyclose says:

    Having once spent a weekend driving through the bush looking for convenient trees to hit, I can assure you it was a direct result of returning from a weeks leave to be told my public service job of 11 years had been moved to Melbourne – where I was welcome to move to too, but not to worry they’d ‘found something else for me to do’.

    Walking into the lobby in the mornings was enough to cause palpitations, sweating, stomach cramps and a range of other anxiety related symptoms.

    Then it dawned on me: it’s just a fucking job, and not a terribly good one at that. So I left and I’ve never been happier.

    The fact is you spend almost a third of your adult life at work and it stands to reason that it going to become an important part of your identity and self worth, neither of which can be commodified or economically rationalised.

  32. Pavlov's Cat says:

    The fact is you spend almost a third of your adult life at work and it stands to reason that it going to become an important part of your identity and self worth, neither of which can be commodified or economically rationalised.

    Somebody please write that in the sky, in letters of unquenchable fire.

    It’s why my heart sank the first time I ever heard the phrase ‘human resources’, which was invented more recently than some may think. It’s right up there with using the word ‘clients’ for the people we used to call ‘students’ and ‘patients’, a usage that drains the humanity even from health and education, and (re)constructs both as stark economic transactions.

    But reading around the blogsphere has opened my eyes to the huge number of people out there who unthinkingly regard human beings and all their works as economic units, and it has frightened the hell out of me.

    Prettyclose, I know the feeling (though I never got quite as far as the search for trees, having once miraculously just missed one I wasn’t trying to hit). I too walked and I too have never been happier.

  33. insider says:

    David Jackmanson, you fundamentally misunderstand the agenda of Work Choices. It’s not about making everyone work harder.

    It’s about removing choice from workers so as to affirm managament prerogative, and to deprive workers of rights when businesses fail, or when business owners choose to close them down to escape creditors.

    Work Choices is actually about making life eaiser for those born to rule.

    As to Howard himself, while superficially you might argue he’s been in stressful jobs, the reality is that his jobs involve a great deal of power and respect, and those factors are associated with low stress. The stress a parliamentarian faces is nothing compared to that of a low income worker confronted with ridiculous performance targets in a cramped environment, dealing with angry, arrogant and stupid callers.

  34. Darlene says:

    Thanks for your further comments, Andrew.

    “From what I have seen the first reaction of family and friends to suicide is denial”.

    I just don’t think the above comment is fair on the family.

  35. Mark says:

    I’d agree with insider – the Whitehall studies, something of a landmark in the sociology of workplace stress and illness, sampled a large number of British civil servants in the late 80s and early 90s (the height of Thatcherism). The methodology bracketed out other causes of ill health, and found all other things being equal, those with greater job satisfaction and particularly more autonomy in their work were much less likely to become ill. In other words, if you took someone at the bottom of the tree, working in customer service, and someone who had a policy or research role near the top of the tree, if both individuals were overweight, drank too much and smoked, the person with less satisfying and less autonomous work had a much greater chance of developing a serious illness. People whose work is challenging and enjoyable, and who have a fair degree of discretion as to how they do it, react to stress much differently. I’m sure that a study employing the same methodology with regard to mental health would find the same.

  36. Anna Winter says:

    As to Howard himself, while superficially you might argue he’s been in stressful jobs, the reality is that his jobs involve a great deal of power and respect, and those factors are associated with low stress. The stress a parliamentarian faces is nothing compared to that of a low income worker confronted with ridiculous performance targets in a cramped environment, dealing with angry, arrogant and stupid callers.

    Absolutely. I wish there were two words for the two kinds of stress that come with such different jobs. Stress that comes with a job that is fulfilling, commands respect and comes with power can be very motivating and rewarding. The stress that comes from being constantly pushed to perform, from being treated as a commodity, from knowing that your choices are put up with it or leave – that is the kind of stress that will only increase with WorkChoices, and which does nothing to improve the life of the person suffering it.

  37. Chris says:

    Absolutely. I wish there were two words for the two kinds of stress that come with such different jobs. Stress that comes with a job that is fulfilling, commands respect and comes with power can be very motivating and rewarding. The stress that comes from being constantly pushed to perform, from being treated as a commodity, from knowing that your choices are put up with it or leave – that is the kind of stress that will only increase with WorkChoices, and which does nothing to improve the life of the person suffering it.

    Hey since when were politicans respected? 🙂

    Seriously, I think its a bit simplistic to separate the stress people experience that way. I’ve encountered both types in the same job. And its clear from the occasional suicide attempt of a politician that they don’t just experience the motivating/rewarding flavor. I’m no fan of Howard, but just have a look at how badly he’s aged over the last decade to get an indication that its not all happy/fun stress he’s experiencing.

    I’d even suggest that circumstances outside of the job affect the way in which you experience stress caused by the job (they can make it good, or bad).

  38. David Jackmanson, you fundamentally misunderstand the agenda of Work Choices. It’s not about making everyone work harder.

    It’s about removing choice from workers so as to affirm managament prerogative, and to deprive workers of rights when businesses fail, or when business owners choose to close them down to escape creditors.

    Work Choices is actually about making life eaiser for those born to rule.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is a good understanding of WorkChoices at all.

    WorkChoices is about helping business owners to increase the rate of profit from their businesses. While it is indeed about “affirming management prerogatives”, this is mainly their prerogative to force individual workers to work harder and more profitably.

    It’s certainly not about being born to rule. That’s what Menzies and Fraser were all about, but not Howard.

    Mr Howard wouldn’t give a damn if the current mob of business owners were to go bankrupt and be replaced by new recruits from the most ambitious of the lower-middle class.

    WorkChoices – and the general trend towards more power for employers, and less for employees – is very bad for workers. But it’s dangerous for those against it to fall into the fallacy that it’s all about bosses who want to be idle.

    In fact, our biggest problem at the moment is driven, busy, ambitious bosses who are most definitely NOT lazy or ‘born to rule’.

  39. Razor says:

    I’ve got to hand it to you Kim – you’ve got balls posting this out there and waiting for the Telstra Lawyers to get in contact.

    As for the critics of call centres – if you don’t like your job then do something about it – get some new skils or change employers – in the current employmeny climate that is pretty easy. If you don’t want stress then find a job that doesn’t stress you. Take responsibility for yourselves – nobody else is going to if you don’t.

  40. Kim says:

    Razor, I’ve done nothing more than report the remarks of the parents and note that the facts are in dispute and that I don’t (and can’t) comment on them one way or another.

  41. Anna Winter says:

    Chris, I was talking about different types of stress – I never said they couldn’t be experienced in the same job. You demonstrate in your own comment that you understand there to be different kinds.

    My point is that they are so different that they should have different names because otherwise you get the kind of equivocation that says the stress of working in a call centre is the same stress you get being Prime Minister. It’s a difference in quality, not quantity.

  42. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Oh, rubbish, Razor. Read what’s (very carefully) written there.

    By your logic, “got balls” = “very, very stupid”.

    I’m not sayin’ nuthin’.

  43. Carol says:

    Razor,

    I disagree. I like the move towards getting workplaces to take some responsibility towards making their workplace a supportive and enjoyable place to work. There’s always going to be yukky jobs but it sure doesn’t help anyone for those businesses to have the attitude of “If you don’t like it, move on”. People work where they can and sometimes their job role changes through time. Changing jobs and looking for a new one is a horrid process, and unfortunately not a seamless one. People with commitments don’t take the prospect of going a couple of weeks without pay lightly.

  44. zorronsky says:

    ‘look how bad he’s aged in the last decade’. Late 50s to late 60s is a dramatic aging process for everybody. don,t think it’s exactly bad tho’ it aint all that good either if your health is depreciating as markedly.

  45. David, that’s a very insightful comment.

  46. Carol,
    I think that if workers left workplaces that sucked you would very rapidly find that fewer and fewer workplaces would suck. Bosses that are arseholes, silly and excessively demanding targets and low wage rates would disappear rapidly.
    To me the greatest thing a union could do for workers would be to act as a form of job agency, helping their members find other jobs that have better conditions. A union should be in the best position to find such jobs in good workplaces in their industry – if they are genuinely talking to their members.

  47. Shaun says:

    I think that if workers left workplaces that sucked you would very rapidly find that fewer and fewer workplaces would suck. Bosses that are arseholes, silly and excessively demanding targets and low wage rates would disappear rapidly.

    Not really. With a move towards casualisation, changes to IR laws and a downward movement in wages such businesses will still be around. There are always going to be people who need to work and will take any job. Call centres often have a high turnover of staff because of the poor conditions but they are still around. And the closer you get to working for the minimum wage the less choices you have.

    Carol makes a very good point that in some sectors of the economy it is not so easy to say “Take this job and shove it.” I’m quite happy with who I work for now but have worked for dud bosses in the past. The reasons why people may linger in a bad job (and I’m talking white collar) are varied. Not all industries have the job mobility where you can go from one job to another in a jiffy.

    And if performing for those working blue collar, I’d say there are quite a few more restrictions on what choices an employee has.

  48. Razor says:

    Jesus H. Christ Andrew Reynolds – don’t go giving the unions good ideas – they might become relevant again.

  49. Chris says:

    My point is that they are so different that they should have different names because otherwise you get the kind of equivocation that says the stress of working in a call centre is the same stress you get being Prime Minister. It’s a difference in quality, not quantity.

    That is perhaps true, but I disagree that the stress that a PM is under for example is easier to handle than the stress that someone working in a call centre endures. If you have half a conscience (and sure many people would like to debate that about the current PM 🙂 then the stress that a PM endures is probably much greater. However, people who are PMs are much more experienced and capable of handling those stresses (those who don’t simply don’t make it to those positions)

  50. amused says:

    To me the greatest thing a union could do for workers would be to act as a form of job agency, helping their members find other jobs that have better conditions. A union should be in the best position to find such jobs in good workplaces in their industry – if they are genuinely talking to their members.

    The idea that role of unions is to act as some kind of job referral agency is great, if they have some capacity to influence the nature of the jobs that exist in their industry. But if there is no capacity to do so, exactly what is the purpose of unions?

    Workchoices is designed, among other things, to abolish any legal dispute over the relative shares of output. US business has been successful in claiming the unilateral right to determine relative shares, almost completely. As a result real shares of output and productivity gains in the US over the last twenty years have accrued overwhelmingly to the owners of capital, and real wages have sunk to their lowest level in thirty years. Remind us all again why this result is optimal for people who must work for a living?

  51. Anna Winter says:

    I don’t think that sort of dichotomy is helpful, Chris, nor is it what I was saying. They are qualitatively different.

    Why, when it comes to work threads recently, does it have to be about which is worse? Why, when a post is written about the experiences of those at the bottom of the skills and pay ladder does there need to be any sort of comment about how another type of job is worse? I can’t see any other reason other than it being a good way of diminishing the claims made about people in those kinds of jobs: how dare you complain when someone else has it so much worse?

    It’s not helpful, it isn’t relevant and it isn’t fair.

  52. Kim says:

    Maybe, as GoAwayBrownie suggested, Anna, it’s because there just aren’t that many people who like their jobs. So we tend to get this (unconscious?) desire to diminish the experience of those who have really crappy jobs through comparisons which sort of say – “others do it tough too”.

    But thoroughly agree with you!

  53. Anna Winter says:

    You’re right, I think Kim. And there’s an interesting parallel with the discussion about why men should support feminist goals: if we’re all fighting with each other about whose job is worse, then none of us will get our shit together enough to say “hang on, we demand better conditions for all of us!”

  54. Howard under stress??? Maybe since Rudd took over from Kimbo – but before that you’d have to be kidding.

  55. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Howard’s Stress-Indicating Twitchy Shoulder, as recently identified by P. J. Keating, was certainly going overtime last night on The 7.30 Report when the conversation turned to David Hicks, as anyone who subscribes to Crikey will have seen in the lovely little illustrated piece there by Jane Nethercote headed ‘The Shoulder Index’:

    It’s early days in The Shoulder Index, though a first trend is emerging. The left shoulder is jumpier. When the right shoulder joins it in a demented chicken dance the Government back bench should probably start to worry.

  56. Lang Mack says:

    The thought of “ending it all” is not selective, I have had a gut full of pressure that is put on honest workers, and I mean the lower paid, in the below $25,000 mark that I assume most here would be well above, today I was advised that my contract with the National Mail carrier (Aust Post ) that I have held for twenty five years has been terminated, it has been given to a lower tender who can use this contract to advantage as an off set, tax wise, on their main income that being an agent of Aust Post. I also had/would be expected to form a Company, that the other party allready hold, I have worked for fourty years and never claimed support in any way from a Government support, however I have some debt and also some pride ,( I cut and carried mine props to Burragrang Valley before it was Sydneys water supply ) I am now in the position where I feel cast aside for an ethic that does not seem to matter, for Gods sake it’s about $500.00 PA over five years, however that not the point, I remarried only months ago and (yep, silly me) thought that I would have an income for a while, then retire later and drift off into the “in my day”world.
    Now at sixty three and always being a person of pride, albeit not educated, I have some hard thinking to do and Centrelink seems to me to be position of second last resort. The reason I’m putting this position to you all is, don’t judge people on ways out, no use the “well could have been” . I have sleepless nights of worry that I can really do without , so don’t be harsh on others, please. ( I enjoy LP a hell of a lot, good people on here, seems you lot are intelligent and considerate , and I thank you for that.)

  57. Bridie says:

    Lang, I for one do not judge or evaluate people on the basis of their job and don’t for a minute believe where people end up job-wise has a much at all to do with their worth or intelligence. In my own immediate family I have underachieving autodidacts with dull, lowpaid jobs through to a Supreme Court judge and a Director-General of a government department.

    All I will say about the latter jobs, in comparison say to yet another sibling who mows lawns for a living, is that the judge and the D-G get more $ perks. This tends to facilitate the offsetting of stress through a myriad of ways that $ can buy. Yes, monetarily more rewarding, plus the psychological seduction of the external perception of power, but, ultimately, an experience of supreme powerlessness, thus doubly frustrating and unfulfilling. This is from the horses’ mouth (via moi, of course!).

  58. Tim says:

    Suicide due to work pressure? I’m not suprised, work can be fully or partly to blame for the bundle of stress in ones life. I’ll give you me as a case in point.

    My marriage broke up partly due to financial/work factors.I was down. I’ve found that at these periods people don their boots and start kicking. The boss, my proclaimed ‘mate’ of years saw the opportunity to increase work stress on myself to break my industrial strength as Union rep. I fought back to equal the union/boss balance but as I’d used alcohol to ease the pain of divorse I well, slipped up under the stress. So I was ‘strongly encouraged’ out of work, on pretext, having just taken on a new mortgage and having lost my license to the drink. Now that was stress and work was part of it. I’m a lucky one, I’m still here, Pity for those who arn’t,

    Tim.

  59. Chris says:

    Why, when it comes to work threads recently, does it have to be about which is worse? Why, when a post is written about the experiences of those at the bottom of the skills and pay ladder does there need to be any sort of comment about how another type of job is worse?

    Well I agree with you there, I was originally disagreeing with your implication that although politicians endure stress, their type of stress doesn’t really count as you claim its rewarding and motiviating. Workplace stress affects people in all sorts of jobs, it doesn’t help to claim that just because someone is in a job that pays really well or a position of respect that stress can’t affect them just as much as someone in a McJob.

  60. Fiasco da Gama says:

    Best wishes, Lang Mack. I hope you find some decently-paying work soon. Keep yourself well, and keep commenting.

  61. steve says:

    Sane Australia has an article on dificulties of gettiing a job if suffering from a Mental illness.

  62. steve says:

    Here is an accumulative study from the US of 52 Reports on the effects of long working hours.

  63. steve says:

    This is an executive summary of a recent report into the cost of working on hours on family and social life in Australia from Relationships Forum Australia.

    Tthey are calling for the Federal Government to take the issue more seriously.

  64. Kim says:

    And there’s an interesting parallel with the discussion about why men should support feminist goals: if we’re all fighting with each other about whose job is worse, then none of us will get our shit together enough to say “hang on, we demand better conditions for all of us!â€?

    That’s right, Anna!

    And Lang Mack, my thoughts and well wishes and prayers go out to you tonight.

  65. steve says:

    It is a digusting variation of the ‘deserving poor’ argument that is often run by RWDB’s. Goes something like if you don’t like your job just go out and get another one but what these clowns don’t realise is that once people have been fooled too many times with this theory it all too often ends in tragedy.

    Mission Australia notes the following:
    Unemployment and underemployment

    When we examine the suicide trends in Australia throughout the last century, there appears to be quite a distinct correlation between unemployment and suicide. In periods of high unemployment, such as during the Depression, suicide rates soared.

    Underemployment is also a factor, with those at the ‘lower status’ end of the labour market, whose employment offered ‘low job autonomy, greater external supervision, less on-the-job training, poorer promotional possibilities, lower wage levels and greater sensitivity to market forces’91 had suicide rates very close to twice that of those in ‘higher status’ employment, with a steady decline in suicide as occupational level rose.92 The recent rise in youth, rural and indigenous suicides is almost entirely attributable to an increase in male suicide in each of these groups.93

    Unemployment and underemployment effects men and women differently. In Western societies, men are typically seen, and continue to see themselves, as ‘breadwinners’ and ‘providers’. When this role is denied them through unemployment, or underemployment, they are left with no clear ‘role’ for themselves in society, and their self esteem suffers.

    Women, on the other hand, are viewed as having multiple ‘roles’ in life, and appear to be able to adapt far more readily to changes in their employment.

    Whilst unemployment does not affect all men in the same way, it does impact on the mental health of a great number of men, particularly those in lower socio-economic circumstances, who have greater difficulty in finding employment.
    Read their report here.

    I also do not agree that the taking away of the right to unfair dismissal protection through workchoices does not compound the problems of the unfairly dismissed.

  66. Shaun says:

    Back in 2005 I reviewed Elisabeth Wynhausen’s Dirt Cheap. The book was pre WorkChoices and a disturbing look at the plight of those working the minimum wage.

    It confirms that for many the callous “why don’t you get another job then” argument is not very realistic as per steve’s comment.

  67. Bernice says:

    Just finished reading ‘Gittinomics’ by SMH economic commentor, Ross Gittins, & was very very surprised by how much time & effort Gittins put into refuting the mantra of Work Work Work = Money Money Money = Happiness Happiness Happiness.

    For a chap who has spent the last 30 years insisting that the market is always right, he is extremely concerned about the impact of WorkChoices which he sees as political and social manipulation with appalling outcomes for Australia economically as well as socially.

    & for a snapshot of where Workchoices will take us, read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel & Dimed. But warning – you’ll probably be severely depressed for a couple of weeks afterward.

  68. Don Wigan says:

    Lang Mack, I feel for what you’re going through. I’m a similar age and went through something like that a few years ago.

    I really thought I was educated and experienced enough to get another job some time – but after a few years … nothing, not even interviews for stuff I’m well qualified in. Despite all the talk about wanting people to stay on longer, most employers simply don’t want to know older workers.

    In financial desperation, I got into taxi driving. It was not something I especially looked for – I knew the returns were very poor for the hours worked. So away I went. It took a bit of adjusting in the early stages, but I managed after a while. The best part was that it brought in a cash flow. Suddenly my debts were manageable. Stress and uncertainty were relieved just through that. There was practically none in the job (I live in country Vic – maybe wouldn’t be so keen in the metro area) . It’s regarded as self-employment, which means there’s no sickies, holidays or penalty rates, but does have some tax benefits.

    My only hitch at all has been that Centrelink now thinks I’m a millionaire and has been trying to pare back the student allowances of my “dependent” adult student daughters (living 300km from the family home!), but I’ve learnt to battle with them.

    I’m not saying this is necessarily for you – I only thought of it at all because you mentioned mail contracting, which I presume requires quite a lot of driving. And of course it is independent, and older drivers are an asset. Especially if you are able to work weekends it is not too hard to get started. But avoid night shifts.

    I hope this might help.

  69. steve says:

    It’s regarded as self-employment, which means there’s no sickies, holidays or penalty rates, but does have some tax benefits.

    Tax benefits? Like what?

  70. Don Wigan says:

    Not a lot, I admit, steve, but more than PAYG can manage unless they are very imaginative and have a good accountant. I can claim things like laundering, cab-cleaning, mobile phone 100% and landline phone 25%.

    I won’t put down all details in case Big Brother can trace these things, but I reckon my nett income compared with my gross (even allowing for paying GST) brings my income tax rate to about half, maybe 60% of what I used to pay on PAYG (admittedly with a bit higher gross).

  71. steve says:

    We’ve still got a long way to go to get within a bull’s roar of Santo Santoro and the rest of the priviliged ruling class though.

  72. GoAwayBrownie: There are a few benefits for Optus to hire “contractors” instead of employees, however I cannot see that Optus being absolved of performing slave labour for the ATO is one of them. Are you able to expand on your point?

    Insider: In amongst all the understandable resentment of those who feel they are born to rule, etc etc etc, are you able to explain how workchoices actually deprives workers of rights when business owners “choose to close down rather than pay their bills”. Or even explain this technique of debt-evasion? Please?

  73. Mark says:

    See the transmission of business provisions, and the increased possibility of transferring employees (without their consent) to another corporate entity.

  74. Katz says:

    It’s regarded as self-employment, which means there’s no sickies, holidays or penalty rates, but does have some tax benefits.

    I believe that is is true to say that employers are not compelled to pay a portion of the payments they make to contractors into a superannuation fund.

    This has at least two consequences.

    1. Employers have lower overheads and on-costs when employing contractors.

    2. There is and there will be a greater propensity for contractors (and for casuals) to find themselves reliant on the Old Age Pension when they are past working age.

    Therefore, taxpayers who also are making provision for their own retirement are cross-subsidising the employment of contractors.

    These arrangement that discriminate against self-funded taxpayers are therefore also encouraging employers to end the labour system that compels self-funded superannuation.

    Ironic, isn’t it?

  75. steve says:

    Last I heard was the Cab owners were making the workers pay the cab owners insurance on the car on a per shift basis and if they go years accident free the cab owners pocket the money.

    Initially it was introduced allegedly to cover the insurance excess if the driver had an accident but it has turned into a wider scam to relieve the Cab owner of an expense of running the cab that rightfully belongs to the cab owner.

    You are right Katz and I think that the conditions (or lack thereof) for cab drivers is the real basis of the Workchoices legislation and allowing people to go to work for decades in some cases with no superannuation is criminal and immoral.

  76. steve says:

    Insider: In amongst all the understandable resentment of those who feel they are born to rule, etc etc etc, are you able to explain how workchoices actually deprives workers of rights when business owners “choose to close down rather than pay their billsâ€?. Or even explain this technique of debt-evasion? Please?

    SATP I think this one bursts your bubble

  77. Chris says:

    2. There is and there will be a greater propensity for contractors (and for casuals) to find themselves reliant on the Old Age Pension when they are past working age.

    Aren’t contractors legally obliged to contribute to superannuation funds as well – eg. they do it instead of the employer?

  78. Katz says:

    Aren’t contractors legally obliged to contribute to superannuation funds as well – eg. they do it instead of the employer?

    It’s a very grey area of the law. As you can see.

    I’d be interested to know if there are any figures on how much super is being contributed in the prescribed way in the name of contractors.

  79. Another Kim says:

    Kim, how did she pass away? How was suicide the final conclusion? Bit of experience in this and while I know the conversation was going in the direction of work issues, I didn’t read in the links of a note she may have left or anything about her manner of death.

  80. steve says:

    Contactors in the form of cabdrivers is a joke. It derives from a High court decision when the Tax Department thought it was ludicrous to have such lowpaid workers called contactors. The ATO took the cab owners to court and were met with more silk than in a silkworm factory and consequently the Tax Dept either lost or withdrew from the case and this was one of the precursors of the Workchoices push.

    Won by default but showing bosses it could be done.The average cabdriver would not earn enough to be able to fund a retirement through super.

  81. steve says:

    For the mess that the taxi indrustry is in in NSW see here. Most states endure the same level of dysfunction.

  82. Don Wigan says:

    Steve, I’ve got to accept responsbility for this digression into the conditions of cab-driving, and that those conditions are very like a pre-cursor to Workchoices.

    The Vic conditions are in all probability not any better than NSW. The Vic system of Bailment is virtually the continuation of 18th century provisions in Britain for cab drivers. In insurance it means (probably because of your continual time on the road) the excess is $1000 before paying for any claim. Whatever payments are made for the insurance, and for Workcover, are met by the owners.

    In reality, of course, with such a high excess, minor knocks and scratches are usually paid by the drivers without going to insurance. Probably someone should do something about this or the cost ought to be tax-allowable, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be.

    You’re right of course about earnings of the average driver. I think it’s madness that younger people should go into this occupation if they have any choice. But as you’d notice in the capital cities, migrants from NESBs often have very little choice.

    I suppose that us oldies are pretty much in that category. That’s why I thought of suggesting it to Lang. I don’t mind it. I guess liking people helps, as you’ve probably noticed from Adrian’s blog. It’s like that old saying, ‘it might be a crooked wheel, but it’s the only game in town.’

    But let’s hope the rest of industry doesn’t follow that track through Workchoices.

  83. steve says:

    Don, this is the way workchoices heads the conditions of employment. Iaxi drivering with no sick pay, no holiday pay, no superannuation no penalty rates, workers written into legislation paying GST and filling out BAS forms as though they were small businessmen, and paying insurance premiums for owners is the ideal and dream of many in the business community and Liberal Party.

    It is all partt of the American Nightmare they have planned for other categoties of low paid worker and workchoices is a huge step down this path. Even if it is a pleasant lifestyle it is still unfair and not good policy to have workers unable to plan for their future.

  84. Don Wigan says:

    Good point about GST and BAS, steve. It is a rather pathetic screwing of small subbies to have to pay it at all. We’re actually a pretty small demograph, but I reckon Labor could win some votes by promising to abolish it, even if they substituted it for some sort of super.

    To return to the original theme, I have to agree with what has been posted about call centres. The working conditions seem to resemble those of galley slaves. It’s not really recognised how dehumanising these type of conditions are. As to the Workchoice supporters’ argument that you can just move on to another job in this age of high employment… it’s garbage.

    If we had a discrete workplace and job market, maybe it could work. The galley slave businesses would all go broke, and those left would be more reasonable. But on the one hand, the new Workchoice conditions encourage other employers to do likewise (you should hear some tales of the hoary mining conditions (especially OH&S) applying under the new conditions applied by the Court Govt in WA. It was sort of good money, but nobody stayed for the long term, and you couldn’t get another mining job.) On the other hand, the galley slave owners can just switch their businesses to India.

  85. Kim says:

    AK, I don’t know anything more than what was reported in the story I linked to.

  86. steve says:

    Don’t think it will be easy to overcome the High court decision in the case of Taxi drivers or the High court decision involving workchoices. While some bosses with businesses like call centres can transfer their operations overseas, other industries with long hours and poor working conditions are stuck here.

    Am always reminded of why there is no tax on gambling winnings in Australia while there are income tax charges in overseas countries if lotto is won etc. The difference is a High court decision on that too which holds gambling as an irrational act that the Tax Department has never been able to get around either.

    But then again the High Court Judgements on Land Rights have been stymied to some extent by the Howard Government so where there is a will there might be a way when it comes to Industrial Justice for the poorer paid and longer working sectors of the workforce.

  87. adrian says:

    Yes Don, young people have no excuse for choosing cab driving as a viable occupation. Unlike us old farts who no longer need to justify our choice of job.

    This link outlines the current status, or lack of, superannuation contributions by owners for drivers. Despite the super regs I’ve never been forced to contribute super by Taxation, even though I now do. For most cabbies the old age pension will have to suffice.

    Basically, due to the transient nature of the game and independent classification of drivers, cabbies have historically traded off leave and super benefits for lower lease payments. Thus WorkChoices was nothing new to the cab industry, which may have even been the model WC used.

  88. Steve, thank you for answering on behalf of Insider.

    I rarely follow links, & am sorry I followed that one.

    Perhaps you provided the wrong link, as it makes no mention of either Workchoices, or of Debt Evasion.

    If you are going to answer the question for Insider, please read it again carefully.

    Er.. are you able to expand on which “bubble” it is you claim I have to burst? I am not understanding this.

  89. steve says:

    I’m sorry you followed the link too. Maybe This one is easier for you to follow.

  90. That link mentions a firm being brought to account for doing something which is wrong.

    A firm being prosecuted for an illegal action is the opposite of your claim that the action is allowed under the law.

    On top of that, there is no mention of workchoices, the law is a previous one.

    In short, to quote another poster on another thread:

    COCK.

  91. steve says:

    SATP Don’t make me laugh the whole point is that although you say thay are bought to account they are actually a winner under workchoices because there is no accountability. Here is the result announced by the court yesterday.

  92. Nixon says:

    I wasnt going to say anything, but after I heard the parents were on tv again blaming telstra, I must vent.

    Telstra? I worked there 2 years, and turnover was high in differnt areas. A new team that started had 15 people. 6 months later, only 2 remained. The job is a stepping stone to other things, otherwise its tough and most dont last. Simple. Of the 15 I started with 2 remain in non-call centre roles

    Family. The create dependeance or independance. Fact is some cultures, for example Serbian, have a bloody past, which can lead to unforgiveness and bitterness to say Albianians. But if someone born in aus has no concept or care for where a boyfriend originated, but the father does, huge issues arise.

    I knew sally. She was a very nice girl who loved her family, and their opinion, dearly.

    Maybe too much…

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