Hatchet job on ordinary workers

How Howard`s agency twisted sacked workers` words

It takes a lot of courage to tell the country on national TV how you’ve been mistreated, even humiliated, by your employer and chucked on the scrap heap.

And this is how John Howard’s government responds to these battlers’ stories.

First, it gets its new employment watchdog – badged with the ironic motto: ‘protecting your workplace rights’ – to do an investigation that involves only talking to the employer.

Second, the government agency – the OWS – than leaks a flimsy and flawed ‘report’ to John Howard’s favourite newspaper.

Third, the Daily Telegraph runs ‘exclusives’ that ‘conclusively’ show these workers were sacked ‘because of their own failures to adapt, their own incompetence or their own lack of application or productivity’.

Here is the Lamp’s analysis of what really happened:

Case 1.  Lynne Barnes

What the ACTU tried to show

Lynne Barnes was shown no loyalty for her service over 25 years and under the new IR laws could be sacked without recourse to unfair dismissal laws as she worked in a workplace with less than 100 employees.

What the Daily Telegraph implied

Lynne Barnes claimed she was sacked because she was too old, and that the OWS had found Ms Barnes was not performing a number of her work duties.

What the OWS investigation involved and why it was flawed

The OWS contacted Lynne by telephone but did not provide details of allegations made by her employer regarding her work performance and did not give Lynne any proper opportunity to respond to these claims. Lynne never again heard from the OWS. While the OWS concluded that Lynne had no unlawful dismissal case, the OWS did not consider whether Lynne’s sacking was unfair, as her previous employer employed less than 100 staff and was exempt from unfair dismissal laws.

Case 2. Robert Kirkman

What the ACTU tried to show

Robert Kirkman was put under harsh pressure to accept a significant pay cut and that under the new IR laws workers can be terminated and offered their jobs back on lower pay and conditions.

What the Daily Telegraph implied

29 Cowra abattoir workers sacked three days after the new IR laws came in and offered their jobs back on 30% less pay had not been sacked illegally because their employer was losing money due to the drought and there had been no breach of law.

What the OWS investigation involved and why it was flawed

The OWS investigation involved interviews with the employer and Cowra abattoir workers. On 7 July, the OWS publicly released the findings of its investigation, stating that in its view Cowra Abattoir had not breached the IR laws. The ACTU has never claimed that the sacking of the Cowra workers was illegal under the IR laws.

Case 3. Jennifer Gillian

What the ACTU tried to show

Jennifer Gillian was sacked by text message – a particularly harsh form of treatment.

What the Daily Telegraph implied

Jennifer Gillian had been told that she would be no longer working for the company by ‘telephone’ and not by text message.

What the OWS investigation involved and why it was flawed

On 6 April, the OWS interviewed Jennifer’s former employer, who acknowledged Jennifer had been advised by text message that the company would have no more work for her. The company also claimed they had contacted Jennifer by telephone (a claim Jennifer disputes). The OWS never contacted or spoke to Jennifer. Nor, according to the OWS report, did it make any attempt to get Jennifer’s side of the story – describing this element of its investigation as ‘Not Applicable’.

Case 4. Stephen Dungey

What the ACTU tried to show

Stephen Dungey, after five years’ service, was sacked the day after the new IR laws commenced, with no redundancy pay or compensation. This case illustrates the impact of the new IR laws, which exempt workers in large businesses from claiming unfair dismissal when they are sacked for operational reasons.

What the Daily Telegraph implied

It was OK for Stephen to be sacked without warning and without redundancy pay because he had signed an individual contract, which stripped him of his right to redundancy.

What the OWS investigation involved and why it was flawed

The OWS contacted Stephen after he appeared on the 7.30 Report on 3 April. The OWS concluded Stephen’s contract did not provide for redundancy and that he could not pursue an unfair dismissal case because he earned too much.