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Daily Archives: August 15th, 2012

by: By Tim Ayres

IT might seem like everything’s made in China these days but chances are, you use something every day that’s made in Sydney’s western suburbs – whether it’s the automatic transmission in your car, a scratchie, a solar panel or a smoke alarm.

As trains and motorways are funneling commuters east, work is already under way at the thousands of small and medium-sized factories and workshops often hidden from view.

Near Liverpool, workers at HPM make the only Australian-made powerboards, sockets, smoke alarms and switches you’ll find at your local hardware store.

At Minto, workers churn out Streets paddle pops and Cornettos. At Bella Vista, workers at ResMed make devices to treat sleep apnea.

Of course, making things in Sydney has its challenges. Across Australia, manufacturers are being squeezed by the high Australian dollar and low-cost overseas competitors.

As western Sydney is a manufacturing centre, the current squeeze on the industry disproportionately hurts the region. 

Jobs are being hit.

Two hundred jobs were lost when multinational Reckitt Benckiser closed its West Ryde factory, sending the manufacture of its iconic Australian brands Mortein and Dettol overseas. The Huntington factory that supplies Australia with its scratchie instant lottery tickets is soon to shut, with the work being sent overseas. Sixty jobs are going there.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost when Shell stops refining oil at its Clyde site.

The same story of job losses is playing out on a smaller scale at many workplaces across western Sydney. If we don’t pay attention to our manufacturing base in western Sydney, we face watching it fade away. Good, skilled trades jobs in manufacturing industries with a future are critical to the economic success of the region.

Wages from good blue-collar jobs sustain suburban economies, while local manufacturing creates supply chains that spread economic benefit well beyond a single enterprise.

With real commitment from industry and government, Sydney’s west can be a smart and skilled manufacturing centre in the competitive global economy.

We need to aim for a future in which an auto component maker in Blacktown can win a contract against one in Guangzhou.

We won’t get there on labour costs: we’re lucky to live in a country where people earn fair wages. It will be through investment in technology, innovation and skills; a commitment from industry to employ managers who are capable of leading their enterprises in a tough environment; and a serious effort from government.

Government’s role is not to prop up outdated technologies and industries. But it should be fighting for good local jobs, supporting the industries of the future and creating the environment for them to thrive.

We haven’t seen much of that lately: 17,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost from NSW since the O’Farrell government took office. Barry O’Farrell may not have personally sacked those workers but nor has he been defending them nor putting up the big ideas for the NSW manufacturing jobs of the future.

A place to start would be the North West Rail Link. The state government has trumpeted the project’s potential to create jobs, yet has set no local-content target.

The North West Rail Link could be a driver of manufacturing jobs in western Sydney in steel fabrication, in rolling-stock components, in air-conditioning units, in concrete.

Or tenderers could just send all of that work – for thousands of Aussie jobs – overseas.

In Granville, workers at Knorr-Bremse produce brake sets for trains – I’d love to see them get the chance to supply the trains that run on the new train line. But I’m not holding my breath.

A mandated ratio of apprentices to skilled tradespeople on North West Rail Link contracts would deliver some serious investment in training and valuable opportunities for young people to take up a trade.

There are many elements to building a thriving manufacturing future for western Sydney. Business, unions, training organisations, residents and government at all levels have a role to play.

But it won’t happen by itself. 

Tim Ayres is NSW secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Print Article15 August 2012 7:23am

 Industrial tribunals have responded well to the challenges posed by social media misconduct, and employers shouldn’t be afraid to take action in appropriate cases, says barrister Elizabeth Raper.

In grappling with the topic, courts have been “making sure they undertake a balanced exercise in terms of the need to sanction outside-work conduct, against the legitimate interests of those that are responsible for the conduct when it falls in the workplace, for which employers can be vicariously liable”, Raper told the 20th Labour Law Conference in Sydney this week.

The main issue that has been brought into “stark relief” from Facebook cases in the industrial arena is the extent to which conduct outside of work can be the subject of sanction by an employer, she says. “So related to this issue is whether the conduct is private, and whether it’s outside, therefore, the purview of employers.”

She says social-media-related misconduct cases tend to fall into three categories:

  • crossing of “professional boundaries” via social media;
  • social media misconduct outside of work – for example making disparaging comments online, or harassing or intimidating co-workers; and
  • social media as a contemporaneous record of misconduct – for example where an employee claims to be sick, but posts photos from the party they’re attending, or posts evidence online of misconduct that occurred in the workplace.

According to Raper, decisions to date reveal a similar evolution to that seen with sexual harassment cases in the 1980s, and email pornography cases in the 1990s. In all three areas, “courts have gained over time a greater understanding of the technology, and then have considered the misconduct in the light of the wider obligations of employers to protect their workforces”.

Further, as with these earlier cases, “there’s a lesson to be learned from all parties in terms of employers understanding what their rights and obligations are, and also employees working out, ‘When does the conduct overstep the mark and can be the subject of sanction?'”

Out-of-hours misconduct

Employers struggle with the issue of sanctioning employees for misconduct outside of work, but there are some instructive decisions to guide their actions, Raper says.

The 1996 Federal Court decision in McManus v Scott-Charlton, for example, shows that “When considering the question of obeying lawful direction and the extent to which an employer can give a direction or sanction an employee for conduct outside of work, it was said rightly that when you’re considering the conduct, it’s about matters affecting work”, she says.

Tribunals expect employers to provide “some legitimate level of supervision of the relationship of employees inter se… in order to protect the interests of an employer from adverse effects that can flow from employee misconduct”, she says.

“So the cases in terms of dealing with misconduct generally reveal that derogatory comments on Facebook will give rise to sanction.”

In determining whether sanctions are fair and warranted, an independent umpire will specifically consider “the extent to which the conduct has affected the employer’s business, and whether the relationship of trust and confidence has been compromised”, Raper notes.

In the case of O’Keefe v Good Guys, it was legitimate for an employer to sack a worker who said intimidating and damaging things about a colleague on Facebook from his home, she points out.

“In that decision Deputy President Swan quite rightly said, ‘Let’s see what the employee handbook says about being courteous and respectful. Let’s deal with the issues about how an employee shouldn’t behave. [And] putting aside whether there was a policy in place that dealt with Facebook or not, or email, or inappropriate outside-work conduct… let’s deal with common sense that would dictate that one could not write and therefore publish insulting and threatening comments about another employee in the manner which occurred’.

“What the decisions reveal is that conduct on online socialising sites, just like conduct outside work, will be dealt with in the way that the tribunals have always dealt with misconduct.”

Social media “not a private conversation at the pub”

Raper says she is often asked how “making derogatory comments on Facebook is any different from having a private conversation down at the pub on a Friday night, when you’re just having a whinge”.

“The difference is this: there’s a wider audience; it can be on-sent to other people and out of context; it’s often communicated to work colleagues; there’s a permanent record; and it can be republished time and time again. By virtue of those things it’s different from the old conversations that we used to deal with.”