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It isn't Fair

“What about me, it isn’t fair, I’ve had enough now I want my share, Can’t you see? I wanna live! But you just take more than you give” – Moving Pictures, or for our Gen Y readers – sung more recently by Shannon Noll

Sadly, Life isn’t fair. But what is Fair? Does it always have to be that for every winner there is at least one loser? Is Fair where nobody is negatively affected when someone else benefits? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else “takes more than they give”, so in turn “I want my share”. There are only two ways that true “fairness” can ever become reality: 1. consider who one is comparing oneself to; 2. Provide exactly the same foundations for everyone, and then those who make something out of it get the benefit for their efforts, whilst those who choose not to, don’t.

Of course, the above will never happen in practice. Everyone’s starting point is different, and nobody faces exactly the same circumstances in any given day, let alone in life. Here are some business related topics for the Fairness Police to ponder. Even though we think it doesn’t impact on each of us, directly or indirectly, it does.

The Great Australian Dream

Commonly referred to as Home Ownership, the Great Australian Dream is unique compared to most countries around the world. In most countries, people rent accommodation, instead putting their money into productive investments that give a financial return. This obsession has made housing investments in Australia a low risk investment strategy that has raised prices beyond most other places, and with it putting affordability for particularly First Home buyers out of reach. So to help people get onto the property ladder, the Federal Government offered a First Home Saver Account that paid 17% interest for 4 years based on a person saving between $1,000 and $6,000 per year for 4 years. A 17% Government Guaranteed return on investment should be jumped on by anyone with even half an idea of personal Finances. Yet the scheme is now being closed because of insufficient take up (only 6% of the expected number took it up). Why? Because having to save for 4 years before being able to buy a first home was “seen as a turn off for first home buyers”. Schemes like the First Home buyers grants (whilst seen as good for the construction industry) further perpetuate this type of thinking by only applying to new (not existing) housing. First Home buyers want new McMansions (but on a 400m2 block close to the city) now, without any hard work or developing a habit of saving first. Is it Fair to expect instant fulfilment of dreams, when others have had to work hard to save for theirs? Perhaps the Great Australian Dream is more like a cat nap? With such a generous scheme being “too hard” for people to “take advantage of”, our future is in bigger trouble than we might think.

New Workcover rules

The Qld State Government conducted a Review of WorkCover last year. Some important changes are now flowing though:

-          The average premium for businesses have reduced by 17%

-          Employers can now gain access to a prospective employees’ previous claim history or injuries, making it easier to safely get a person into a suitable role

-          Minor Injuries (with less than 5% Degree of Permanent Impairment) will now be directed towards an Accredited Return to Work Program, rather than ending up in complicated common law processes as in the past. The focus has changed from lawyers trying for money as compensation, to actually caring for the well being and recovery of the injured person.

-          Penalties for Fraudulent Claims have been increased.

-          Qld is the only state covering employees travelling to and from work

All the above changes (except the last one) make it more viable for businesses to employ more good people. Seems fair and beneficial for everyone. Except perhaps the lawyers, who will have less work.

Bullying is never Fair

In January I wrote about the new Workplace Bullying laws (click here) and their impact on business. My fear was that employees could go straight to Fair Work, without even raising the issue with the employer. The new rules rely on a reverse onus of proof, that is, the employer is guilty until they prove themselves innocent. A new approach to the issue is certainly worth trying, both to reduce the number of incidents that do occur, as well as to put a focus on finding a solution (that is, on Arbitration) rather than Ambulance chasing lawyers looking for money to solve all the problems. So what is the outcome after the first 3 months? 151 Applications were made to the Fair Work Commission. 7 were dismissed. One was successfully upheld against the employer. What about the other 143 applications? They were withdrawn or resolved between the parties (as they should be). Each case involves substantial time and cost in preparation for the Arbitration Hearing, whether they go ahead or not. I’ve noticed more ads from lawyers “fighting for fair” lately. I’ll leave you to decide if this is now a Fairer system.

Fair Expectations

Running a business means having a broader skill set than a Swiss army knife. Our legislators and the legal fraternity have the luxury of only having to know one aspect, and can dedicate virtually unlimited time to handle matters AFTER they have occurred. Business Managers don’t have this luxury, and need to heed this lesson about following procedures to the letter from a case against Bibby Financial Services. The information available on the case seems fairly clear cut about the incident. Their failure to follow procedures in the handling of the dismissal of an employee for Sexual Harassment has now cost them six months pay plus $1.4 million. Is it fair on the victim or the company that the perpetrator is rewarded on technicalities for what was clearly unprofessional conduct?

Fairly costly delays

Of course other examples abound also. 45 Tug Boat Deck hands are holding the WA Mining industry to ransom to the tune of $100 million PER DAY through threatened strike action because they want to increase their leave from 26 weeks per year (4 weeks on, 4 off) to 30 weeks plus have an 8% pay increase. This would also hit tax receipts. Is it fair to the miners (who aren’t even their employer) to shut down a whole industry?

Mining and Gas projects that go through years of red and green tape costing millions upon millions of dollars are being targeted by activists who don’t agree with the decision once approval conditions have been met. The delays further stop people being employed and are unnecessary costs to the venture companies. We have a political system re-enforced by a legal system for handling objections, all of which hamper local and overseas businesses from getting on with their job, but there is little or no recourse on activists clearly causing nuisance. Is that fair?

And the Redundancies at Holden have started already, 4 years before the planned closure. 800 employees were paid a total of $122.3 million (or an average of over $150,000 each). Had they worked at a different company (that hadn’t been subsidised by Government handouts for the last couple of decades), it would be highly unlikely they would have received anything like that. Is that fair?

Lastly, there have been changes to the Asbestos handling requirements. Yours truly is not an expert in this area, and suggest our customers operating in this field check out this link. One change impacting on people owning/occupying Workplace buildings is that now Asbestos registers are only required if constructed before 31/12/1989 (instead of 31/12/2003). This seems like a logical outcome based on the phasing out of Asbestos that had occurred during the 1980’s.

Clearly, Fairness and Equality depend on where you stand in the equation. We’ll probably never agree on what is a fair share or who gives more. “Can’t you see, I wanna Live!” – hopefully we can all start to see “the little boy waiting at the corner shop” and stop the unfairness of being overlooked.

As always, onwards and upwards!

Fred Carlsson

General Manager