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Daily Archives: May 19th, 2009

May 19, 2009

Facebook is blurring the boundaries between work and private life and sometimes the consequences are at the employee’s expense, writes Michelle Wilding.

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Maria’s nightmare began after a long weekend when she logged on to check her emails only to find: “The boss added you as a friend on Facebook” staring at her through her inbox screen.

Above this was a message notification sent via Facebook candidly asking why she denied accepting her boss as a friend. Maria had not even been online for almost 36 hours. Having no choice, she bit the bullet and accepted her boss as a Facebook friend.

Facebook now boasts 108.3 million users, reports Nielsen Online. As the world’s most popular social networking site, it’s not too comforting to know online bullying tactics from your boss are enough to knock down your safeguarded Facebook page that was once locked by private settings.

Unfortunately, former service operator Maria was cornered: she was vulnerable to her “unscrupulous service manager” at one of Australia’s leading supermarket chains. Maria says she was fearful, vexed and defenceless when her boss began using her online information to manipulate her work life.

It started with inappropriate innuendos regarding Facebook photos. More seriously, Maria’s work hours were exploited and she received abusive confrontations and phone calls questioning her availability and every move.

“My boss was a gossiping, domineering, contriving megalomaniac and her behaviour dramatically intensified when she used Facebook to pry,” Maria says.

“I’m a student, so it’s very rare to have a night out. If plans came up, she would purposely make me work. If I needed money, she’d take advantage of that need and cancel my shifts, stripping me of my dignity.

“I don’t know where she got off. She was worse than Stephanie from The Bold And The Beautiful. She played with employee lives like we were her toys. It upset me so much I finally stood up for myself and quit. I feel like I got my freedom back and can breathe again.”

Maria notes one occasion when she RSVPed on Facebook to attend the Future Music Festival with workmates. Unexpectedly she was rostered on the early morning shift the next day, something she believes was calculated.

“As a senior, I was told I wasn’t allowed to work weekends … Then, all of a sudden, the weekend Future is on I was put on first thing the next morning. I found it interesting that my boss could bend the ‘no seniors on weekends’ rule when it suited her,” she says.

The executive director of UNSW’s Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, David Vaile, says Maria’s case is a useful example of how personal information stored on a Facebook page can be abused, noting the consequences of posting personal information online aren’t necessarily clear because it’s relatively new technology.

“Privacy law has a gaping black hole that does not protect employee privacy and Facebook is outside of that,” Vaile says.

“I think it’s an abuse of the boss’s prerogative to threaten and use their power over their employee’s contract to require access to their Facebook page. On the other hand, there is no idea that Facebook is safe for anyone. Maybe Facebook is required by law to let police have access to a person’s page.”

A range of legal and business reputation risks attached to Facebook concerns Vaile. He says the risks are serious and users should think twice before signing up or sharing private information on Facebook.

“Cyber stalking, harassment, defamation, breach of duty, damage to reputation of workplace: the inherent reliability of that, in the same way that it’s sort of a dangerous and cheap temptation for individuals and also businesses, employers and universities, is a data mine for tragedy,” Vaile says.

Maria’s isn’t the only case of employer Facebook abuse. Former discount retail employee Grace Leasa, 19, was shocked when her then boss made a derogatory remark on her page. After a quarrel with a friend, she updated her Facebook status to: “Grace just can’t do it any more.” To which her boss commented: “You Pussy.”

“I was just surprised because at work he’d act like a friend to the other employees but he’d never been like that with me before,” Leasa says.

“It was sort of degrading because I don’t even talk to this guy.”

Another element through which businesses can intimidate and keep track of their employees is on Facebook groups. Cosmetic retail representative Lucy (not her real name) received two requests to join her work group before she “reluctantly” accepted. The 20-year-old says she was pressured to attend optional work meetings via the group’s listing and experienced online bullying.

“I received updates on meetings and events,” she says.

“I felt the need to put ‘maybe attending’ due to university commitments. If I put ‘not attending’ I would be encouraged by phone to attend. It was pretty much like they were looking into my personal life. But now that I’ve left the group, I feel liberated.

“I also didn’t want to be a part of the group so Facebook users could check up on where I work. That’s another invasion of privacy.”

Not all Facebook employer-employee relationships are troublesome. Doughnut shop worker Kimberley Driver, 20, says she never thinks twice about writing on her Facebook page because she gets along with her boss.

“It would suck if my boss was different,” Driver says.

“It’s your profile to express what you’re feeling and what you want to say. You shouldn’t have to be restricted or toned down by anyone.”

One major problem many users are oblivious of is that their profile is automatically set to be on public view.

Media arts production student Chris Noble, 21, found that out the hard way. He signed up to Facebook 10 months ago and couldn’t figure out why random people were contacting him.

“I couldn’t believe that. I thought [my Facebook profile] was set to private mode. I felt vulnerable and annoyed that anyone, complete strangers, could view my page and information and I had no idea that it was my duty to change the default settings from public viewing to private. It’s ridiculous,” Noble says.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to use Facebook, make sure your profile settings are appropriate. Take advantage of friend category lists such as family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances to filter your relationships and content.

And if your boss does decide to add you on Facebook, it’s not career suicide if you place them on limited profile, where certain parts of your profile content become restricted to them.

After all, do you really want them seeing a photo of you in a bikini or Speedos roaming freely on the beach?

Let’s face it: Facebook was designed as a personal platform for social communication – and for some people, that means leaving work relationships at the office.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/is-your-boss-your-friend-or-foe/2009/05/18/1242498694440.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap2

Anthony Klan | May 18, 2009
Article from: The Australian

THE Red Cross will axe up to 20 jobs and force dozens of other employees to reapply for positions in a shake-up aimed at making the charity more efficient as donations dry up amid the financial downturn.

The aid group will wind back “one-off events” such as raffles and sporting fundraisers as part of the overhaul of its fundraising and communications divisions.

Spokeswoman Vivian Schenker said the 110 staff employed by those divisions would be cut to “about 95”.

A further 50 jobs would be abolished and re-created, with existing staff given the first chance to apply for the new positions.

“We are looking at creating a new team in fundraising,” Ms Schenker said.

“We are moving away from myriad one-off events towards regular and online donations.

“We are moving to the kind of fundraising that is associated with lower costs, which will lead to more money going through to those people who need our services the most.”

Ms Schenker said she was unable to comment on how much the move was expected to save the Red Cross, which has come under pressure with falling donations amid the economic downturn.

She said one-off donations were “marginally down”, but the Red Cross bushfire appeal had helped bolster annual fundraisings by more than $300 million. “We are slightly down in some areas while in others donations are holding.”

Ms Schenker said the jobs cuts would be “across the board” within the fundraising and communications divisions.

“We are looking at aligning our staff more closely with our services and across both fundraisings and communications.”

Charity groups have come under strong pressure in recent months as private donors and corporations tighten their belts amid the financial downturn.

The Starlight Children’s Foundation last month cut 20 of its 150 positions and announced plans to slash its expenses by close to a quarter this year.

The group, which looks after critically ill children by providing entertainers and granting special wishes, has forecast a $2million drop in its revenue this year.

An animal protection group in Sydney has also come under pressure, last month announcing it was on the verge of collapse.

Late last week the NSW Government slashed the rent of Monika’s Doggie Rescue group — which finds homes for dogs on death row in council and RSPCA shelters — from $34,500 to just $400 a year

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25498130-5013404,00.html

Ewin Hannan | May 19, 2009
Article from: The Australian

A CHAMPION wave rider has caught a break in more ways than one, with the Industrial Relations Commission finding that going surfing while on sick leave is not a sackable offence.

Champion surfer Shane Bevan had an appeal upheld by the IRC after he was sacked for going surfing while on sick leave.

Shane Bevan, a former world championship tour surfer, was sacked from his baggage handler’s job after his then employer discovered he took part in Queensland’s Coolum Classic surf contest while on sick leave with a bad back.

The IRC initially upheld his sacking but, on appeal, a commission full bench last week supported Mr Bevan’s claim that the termination was harsh, unjust and unreasonable and ordered the company to pay compensation.

Mr Bevan injured his back while working for Oceania Aviation Services.

The company has the contract to provide baggage handling services to Virgin Blue at Coolangatta airport.

Mr Bevan saw an osteopath who issued him with a medical certificate covering the period to Sunday, September 16, 2007. While on leave, his grandfather died and he travelled to Sydney to be with relatives before returning home two days later. In memory of his grandfather, he decided to compete in the Coolum Classic – of which he was the reigning champion – scheduled for the next day.

The day he surfed was a rostered day off; his back had improved and he revisited his osteopath, who was happy with his progress. He spoke to his work supervisor to check someone was taking his shift on the Sunday, although this was unnecessary given he had a medical certificate that covered the period to and including the Sunday.

Upon returning to work on the Monday, Mr Bevan was asked what he had been doing. He referred to his grandfather’s death and the visit to Sydney. Asked if he had been surfing, he replied that he had been for a “bit of a paddle”. His employment was terminated.

The commission upheld the sacking, finding Mr Bevan misled the company about his physical capabilities and did not acknowledge he had been in the surfing contest when first asked.

However, a commission full bench overturned the findings, noting Mr Bevan participated in the surfing tournament on his regular rostered day off.

“He went surfing in his own private time and not during a time when he was rostered to attend work,” the full bench said. “It is also important to note that Mr Bevan, after organising a shift swap on the Sunday, (despite being covered by a medical certificate) attended work on the Monday (his next rostered shift) ready and able to perform the full range of his duties.”

After lengthy evidence about which muscles Mr Bevan used at work and which he used surfing, the full bench noted the osteopath did not agree that Mr Bevan had put his injury at risk by surfing.

The osteopath’s evidence did not support a conclusion that Mr Bevan was fit to resume work in light of his participation in a surfing competition. Mr Bevan also did not mislead the company about his fitness to resume normal work, given it involved heavy lifting.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25504456-5013404,00.html

May 19, 2009 – 7:01AM
Sun Yizhen considered her university degree in international trade the ticket to a prestigious career with a state-owned enterprise like Bank of China in Beijing. Instead, she found herself huddled against a freezing wind in a middle school parking lot in Huai’an, waiting to interview for a job with the local tax collector.

“I never thought I’d go for civil-servant jobs,” said Sun, 21. “But the financial crisis is something that none of us would expect. We’re just desperate.”

The global financial meltdown is taking a toll on this year’s 6.1 million Chinese college graduates and the 1 million still unemployed from last year. The government said the 2009 official urban registered unemployment rate may reach 4.6 per cent – a three-decade high – as collapsing exports drag gross domestic product to its lowest growth rate in nine years.

That is turning off the pipeline depositing new graduates with multinational corporations and state companies, forcing many students to lower their sights and consider the once-unthinkable for them: a civil-service career. The last test for central government openings attracted about 775,000 candidates – or 56 for every job, a 20 per cent jump from the year before.

Prospects aren’t any better in the US and UK. Just 20 per cent of graduating US students who applied for a job have one, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That’s down from 26 per cent last year and 51 per cent in 2007.

The US unemployment rate reached 8.9 per cent last month. Of the 35,000 students surveyed, 12 per cent had plans to work in government, compared with 8.9 per cent last year, spokeswoman Mimi Collins said.

In the UK, a December survey of 100 firms by London-based High Fliers Research Limited showed that they had reduced recruitment targets by 17 per cent since September and expected to hire almost 3400 fewer graduates this year than planned. The UK jobless rate was 7.1 per cent in March.

Yet the number of entry-level positions for graduates in public service increased by 51 per cent in 2008-2009. A third of 1017 final-year students from 30 universities say such work is more appealing now, the survey said.

China’s Communist Party is especially sensitive about student unemployment as it approaches the 20-year anniversary of the student-led Tiananmen Square uprising in June. The State Council said in January that creating jobs for new graduates was the government’s top priority.

“Students, please rest at ease,” Premier Wen Jiabao said in December while visiting Beijing University of Aeronautics and Aerospace, state media reported. “We are putting the problem of graduates’ employment on top of our agenda.”

The labor ministry said it would lend money to small- and medium-sized enterprises and subsidize salaries for positions in the countryside.

The China Disabled Person’s Federation received more than 4700 applications for a community-organiser position, said Wei Chunfeng, a human resources official there. The starting salary is 3000 yuan ($US440) a month.

“Civil-servant jobs just became suddenly attractive again,” Wei said.

China’s official jobless rate doesn’t include rural workers migrating from one province to another, a population the labor ministry puts at 130 million. A survey of the entire population last year showed the estimated unemployment rate may have reached 9.4 per cent, the government-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in December.

Only 20 per cent of graduating seniors landed work in the first quarter this year, down from the historical average of 70 per cent, said Sherman Chan, a Sydney-based economist at Moody’s Economy.com, an economic analysis unit of New York-based Moody’s Corp.

Since changes were introduced in 1978, China’s economy has averaged 9.9 per cent annual growth and is now the world’s third-largest behind the US and Japan. Wen says GDP must expand 8 per cent a year to create enough jobs in the world’s most populous nation.

The Washington-based World Bank, a multilateral lender established after World War II, predicts growth will slow to 6.5 per cent this year. China is one of five major economies – joining Australia, Brazil, India and Russia – that are still growing, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

By comparison, the world economy may contract 1.3 per cent this year, said the International Monetary Fund, the Washington-based lender with 185 member nations. The US economy shrank 2.6 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier.

A dearth of opportunities for China’s best and brightest may present a challenge to Communist Party leaders, who say the economy must wean itself from dependence on low-cost manufacturing and develop the auto, shipbuilding and steel industries.

“Failing to find those students proper jobs would mean a great loss of human resources, thus irreversible economic loss over a long term,” said Li Xiangwei, head of the college graduate employment department at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Students from the best schools who cannot find employment will go abroad for work or graduate school and may not come back, said William McCahill Jr., vice chairman of research firm JL McGregor & Co. in Beijing.

“For the U.S. it’s been a great source of innovation and technological growth,” he said. “That trend might be a bit accentuated.”

Eric Ma, 25, is earning his master’s degree in logistics from the Shenzhen branch of Tsinghua University – ranked in U.S. News & World Report as the No. 2 school in China. He interviewed unsuccessfully with Procter & Gamble Co. of Cincinnati and Lenovo Group Ltd. of Raleigh, North Carolina, and said he couldn’t even get in the door at Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc. and New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson.

He said he beat out 1,000 others taking the test for a resource management position with the National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing.

“Graduating from the most prominent university doesn’t help very much this year,” Ma said.

Students are under great stress to succeed, said Li of the human resources ministry. China has a one-child policy. Parents in eight of the biggest cities — including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – spend about a third of their incomes on education, according to the Beijing-based Horizon Research Consultancy Group.

“Every student carries the hope of the entire family, so there would be great social impact if they can’t find jobs,” Li said. “The government is under pressure.”

Civil service is nicknamed the “gold rice bowl” because of its stability, annual pay raises and benefits packages, Wei said. Most of the more than 10 million civil servants work in government and law enforcement, and in related agencies.

Sun, a slender 5-foot-3 (1.6-metre) woman, said she never considered that route while attending Beijing Technology and Business University. She interviewed to be an interpreter with Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies, the nation’s biggest maker of equipment for telephone networks, and a customer- service representative with Beijing-based Bank of China, the country’s third-largest by market value.

Her worried parents encouraged her to take the civil- service test in November, she said in a series of interviews by phone and in person in Beijing. She focused on jobs outside the capital because she believed there would be less competition.

She said she expects to earn between 2000 and 3000 yuan a month. Her family calls her a “little gold collar,” meaning she can live comfortably as a civil servant because her hometown is less expensive than Beijing.

“It wouldn’t be my dream job, but when I look around at my classmates, I think, ‘Oh God, I finally got settled!”‘ she said.

May 19, 2009 – 6:57AM
Confidence among US homebuilders in May increased to the highest level since September, providing further evidence that the housing slump that started in 2006 may be closer to a floor.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index of builder confidence rose to 16 from 14 the prior month, the Washington-based NAHB said today, capping the first back-to-back gain since February 2008. A reading below 50 means most respondents view conditions as poor.

The biggest drop in residential construction on record has helped builders trim the glut of properties on the market while low borrowing costs and falling prices are attracting new buyers. Still, unemployment is at a 25-year high, foreclosures persist and credit conditions are tight for builders, indicating a housing recovery will be slow.

“Record high affordability, record low mortgage rates, and the government’s efforts to jump start economic growth, are giving potential buyers optimism,” Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a note to clients. Still, she said, “the supply of foreclosures that started to hit the marketplace over the last couple of weeks will be tough competition for these new homes”.

The Standard & Poor’s index of the biggest homebuilders closed up 7.5 per cent at 233.16 in New York trading after Lowe’s Cos, the second-biggest US home improvement retailer, said first-quarter earnings fell less than analysts anticipated. Lowe’s, helped by sales of more profitable shrubs and flowers, ended up 8.1 per cent at $US19.94.

The builder confidence index was expected to rise to 16 this month, according to the median estimate of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Projections ranged from 13 to 20. The index reached a record low of 8 in January.

The gauge, first published in January 1985, averaged 16 last year.

The confidence survey asks builders to characterize current sales as “good,” “fair” or “poor” and to gauge prospective buyers’ traffic. It also asks participants to forecast the outlook for the next six months.

The builders group’s index of current single-family home sales rose to 14 in May from 12 last month. The gauge of buyer traffic was unchanged at 13. A measure of sales expectations for single-family homes over the next six months rose to 27 from 24.

Confidence rose in three of four regions of the U.S., led by a four-point gain in the West to 12 and a three-point gain in the Northeast to 18. Sentiment in the Midwest held at 14.

“Builders are responding to what they perceive to be some of the best home buying conditions of a lifetime,” NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a builder from Tulsa, Oklahoma, said today in a statement. He cited borrowing costs, low prices and the federal government’s $US8000 tax credit for first-time buyers.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke this month told the congressional Joint Economic Committee that housing “is beginning to stabilise,” citing that as a reason why the economy will bottom out, then return to growth later this year.

Recent reports indicate Americans are more amenable to purchasing homes as affordability increases.

The Reuters/University of Michigan index of home-buying conditions, part of a consumer sentiment report released on May 15, rose to 161 this month from 146 in April. That level is “about equal to the average from 2002 to 2004,” Abiel Reinhart, an economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said in a note to clients.

The average on a 30-year fixed-rate home loan declined to 4.76 per cent in the week ended May 8 from 4.79 per cent the prior week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The rate fell to 4.61 per cent in late March, the lowest level since the group began records in 1990.

The Commerce Department may report tomorrow that builders broke ground on more houses in April, adding to signs the recession is abating. Housing starts rose 2 per cent last month to an annual rate of 520,000, according to a Bloomberg survey. Building permits rose to a 530,000 pace, the survey said.

Still, some US builders are struggling.

Pulte Homes and Centex, the companies that plan to combine this year, reported quarterly losses that exceeded analysts’ estimates as the housing recession forced them to record $US762 million in land writedowns and property expenses.

Pulte, based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, reported a first-quarter net loss of $US514.8 million, or $US2.02 a share. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was 55 US cents. Centex reported a net loss of $US402.8 million, or $US3.24 a share, greater than the median estimate of $US1.11 a share.

“The operating environment for housing remained very difficult during the first quarter of 2009,” Richard Dugas, Pulte’s chief executive officer, said in a May 5 statement. “Although we are not ready to call a bottom in housing, we are nevertheless encouraged by our sales, traffic and cancellation trends seen in the first quarter that have continued into April.

http://business.smh.com.au/business/world-business/us-homebuilder-confidence-rises-to-eightmonth-high-20090519-bd0t.html?page=-1

May 18, 2009 – 7:59PM

Australia is a step closer to having a national Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) system after state and federal workplace relations ministers met on Monday, a leading business group says.

The ministers agreed to a framework for national laws to replace the current situation in which each state runs its own OHS regime.

A communique issued by the ministers after the meeting said it was a historic day for workers’ safety.

Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said the decision paved the way for a genuinely national OHS system.

“Safety is too important to have the rules rewritten in every state,” she said.

Businesses would have problems with some of the recommendations made at the meeting, but that could be worked on, Ms Ridout said.

She supported some recommendations, including the principle that a person accused in an OHS case was innocent until proved guilty, instead of the other way around as practised in some states.

It was also good news that bosses would be required to do what was reasonably practicable to provide a safe workplace, Ms Ridout said.

Workplace Ministers will next meet in June.

Posted 8 hours 31 minutes ago

A major welfare group says the Fair Pay Commission is using inaccurate information on the cost of living when setting the minimum wage.

The head of Catholic Social Services, Frank Quinlan, says the Commission uses a formula that underestimates the true cost of housing and over-estimates government rent assistance to low-income earners.

He says the data is up to $90 a week out.

“The Federal minimum wage, far from providing a safety net for low-paid employees, might be significantly underestimating their cost of living and therefore placing people under significant hardship,” he said.

“On a federal minimum wage of something like $540 per week, people who are dependent on this income – often single parents with one or two children – might be $60 or $70 worse off than they should be.”

The Fair Pay Commission says it is aware of the concerns, but will not comment while it is considering whether to increase the minimum wage.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/05/19/2574232.htm?section=justin