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What happened to Fair Work?

Article from Hospitality Magazine:

Operating a small business is tough, but there's no excuse for undercutting your staff. Not only does it hurt the workers being shortchanged - it creates a bad name for us all. Industry Observer reports.

Over the past couple of months, the media has been flat out exposing business owners over unscrupulous practices in how they treat their staff. The Fair Work Ombudsman seems to be one of the busiest people in town.

From my point of view, a disproportionate number of these claims are coming from within the hospitality industry. Sure, we have to work horrendous hours, doing jobs that many deem to be beneath them, often serving folk who appear less than thrilled with the experience, but seriously, as an industry we need to have a good hard look at the way we treat our workforce.

It seems that the victims in these cases are often members of the foreign student population, (many of them may be enrolled in our most prestigious universities) but what are they taught about pay and conditions in the hospitality industry? The Salvation Army recently spoke about significant number of these students filing in to take up the offer of free meals put on for the homeless, as they are not earning enough to keep up with the expenses of living far from their support networks. It really doesn't feel right to give them another kick in the wallet when you are their trusted employer - one of their only links to the 'Australian' community. We rightly decry the treatment of workers on foreign shores, but what are we doing closer to home?

Fair Work Stats

Most disappointingly, these breaches of the Fair Work Act are often carried out by people who should know better; seasoned business owners who are trying to profiteer on the cheap, or even more perversely, from people who have come from a similar background as the impoverished student. For me, it kind of makes me feel awkward about being pleased to get such a cheap meal if I think that the person behind the counter, the waiter, or the kitchen-hand is getting the shaft from the proprietor and unaware that things ought to be better.

So, how do we change this? We all know that making a dollar in hospitality is a mix of hard work, timing, snake oil, luck and God's benevolence, yet somehow we need to maintain a system that is fair for all. Complicating this is the pesky WorkCover insurance (or its appropriate state versions) that you need to pay along with various taxes that are sent to rip your hard earned dollars away. Even my daughter's after-school job was a low paid, cash in hand effort until I had a 'firm discussion' one night about the inherent lack of protection and exploitation. It that seemed to resonate as she quit shortly thereafter. I suppose that illustrated to me how easy it is to get away with dodging the system, but what is the long-term expense of doing so? We can't really hold our heads up as a high-minded throng with such a subversive culture, and we are pretty quick to point the finger at others for very similar behaviour.

Part of me thought that it just might be an extension of the old 'anti-establishment' Aussie type that wants to stick it up the government, however, the risk to these workers is far greater than any reflective joy in being a bit sneaky. We are right to continue our support of ethical producers by buying Fairtrade coffee, and loving our organic produce, but take a moment to consider these underpaid (and often then, unprotected) workers much closer to home that certainly need our help. I could head into a dissertation on Plato's construction of a society, or re-preach the Sermon on the Mount in order to pull at the societal or religious heartstrings, but it is entirely reasonable that we learn about this dark underbelly of our industry, and bring it into the light.

It's not good enough to justify abusing the rights of your workers in the misguided belief that 'at least the have a job'; they deserve better. They deserve your respect and the very kind of fair deal that this society sets out to achieve. Now this isn't meant as A Current Affair  style of rant, but if we each try to do good then we may actually achieve what's right. Think about it.

Source: Hospitality Magazine, 20 February 2015