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Category Archives: Diversity in the workplace

By Stephen Lunn
The Courier-Mail
June 05, 2009 08:32am

MEN in jobs with long hours are no more likely to divorce than anyone else.

And if the extra hours are bringing in more money, it may be helping to keep the marriage together.

A new study co-authored by Melbourne Institute economist Mark Wooden finds men are less likely to split up with their partner if they are working between 40 and 50 hours a week, The Australian reports.

“The optimal work arrangement appears to be where the man works a 41- to 49-hour week,” Professor Wooden said.

“Beyond this, the risk of separation does rise, but it is still lower than for couples where the male works a 35- to 40-hour work week.”

Professor Wooden used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, which tracked families between 2002 and 2006, to conclude that long work hours do no harm in terms of divorce rates.

His article was published yesterday in HILDA’s annual statistical report, titled Families, Income and Jobs, alongside other research that confirmed 2002-2006 as a golden period for household wealth creation, which surged 35 per cent over the five years.

In his study of work hours, Professor Wooden noted the current debate over the effect of long working hours on family life. About one in five workers report putting in 50 hours or more a week.

“While surveys have consistently found people believe long hours are detrimental for personal relationships, there are few, if any, studies providing evidence of clear causal links between long work weeks, especially when worked by the husband, and subsequent marital separation or divorce,” his paper notes.

“Indeed, recent studies conducted in both the US and The Netherlands suggests that, if anything, the probability of divorce falls with the number of hours worked by the husband.”

Professor Wooden said income played a part in the chances of divorce, with the probability of separation falling the higher the income level of the male.

But Barbara Pocock, from the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, said it was hard to unpick the complex reasons behind divorce.

“People separate and divorce for a nest of reasons, and I think it’s difficult to try to isolate single causes,” Professor Pocock said.

“Qualitative research shows long hours can be a significant factor when examining the quality of a relationship, but an important component is whether those hours are voluntarily worked.

“Also the nature of the work may be a factor, for instance how intense it is. That can be a real relationship killer.”

Read more on the HILDA report at The Australian

http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,25590399-5012426,00.html

By Michael Edwards for AM

Big ask: Unions say telling manual workers to toil past the age of 65 is not on (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)

The Federal Government is facing a protest from two of the country’s biggest blue-collar unions against its plans to raise the pension age to 67 by 2023.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) say it is unpalatable to expect people in arduous jobs to work to that age.

The pension age increase was announced in the Federal Budget and unions say they will fight the decision.

They say it is not only bad for workers but it also represents a false economy, as the age increase will only lead to more compensation claims from older workers.

John Byrnes, a 62-year-old Sydney construction worker, says his line of work is tough at that age.

“The last five years of my life, five to seven years, I’ve had more things go wrong with me,” he said.

“Honestly, six weeks ago I just had both my knees operated on; I got a crook back and bad shoulder, arthritis. These are age things but a lot of it is work-related. Just doing heavy work for a long period of time. You just break down, the body breaks down.”

Mr Byrnes says while he is looking forward to his retirement in a few years’ time, the increase in the pension age range has alarmed many of his younger colleagues.

He says the Government is taking a free kick at vulnerable people.

“I was scandalised, honestly,” he said.

“I didn’t like it at all. I was in the smoker’s shed at work. There’s about 30 of us sort of sitting in the same shed at smoko and it was a big subject. It was me and a couple of guys around about the same age as me and it was a bit of black humour. We said, ‘Oh well, we’re lucky, we’re escaping that’.

“But the guys running about in their early-50s, mid-50s, well it sort of sunk in. They weren’t happy, you know? And I don’t blame them. I don’t blame them at all.”

Mr Byrnes says blue-collar jobs such as construction are hard enough at the best of times and he says it is ridiculous to think someone over the age of 65 could manage them.

It is an issue which the CFMEU and AMWU intend to fight the Government about.

The unions have written to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd relating their concerns about raising the retirement age.

The national secretary of the CFMEU, John Sutton, says he is astonished by the policy.

“Many of our members of course left school at age 15 or 16,” he said.

“They’ve been working with their bodies in heavy industry of one sort or another for many years. By the time you reach 65 you’ve basically done about 50 years in hard physical labour.

“To be turning around and saying to people that ‘I’m sorry, they’re not going to be getting the aged pension, they’ve got to work on to age 67′, is a pretty big ask.

“A lot of our building workers’ bodies are not in very good shape by the age of 50, let alone 67, so we think that this decision needs a serious rethink in relation to workers doing heavy manual work.”

Mr Sutton says if the change is about saving money then it is a false economy.

“If they really are going to be telling people at 65 and 66 they’ve got to work on in manual industries then I anticipate a hell of a lot of injuries and a hell of a lot of downtime,” he said.

“And I don’t see where that would actually make money for employers or the Commonwealth.”

The Federal Government says increasing the pension age is a responsible reform to meet the challenge of an ageing population and the economic impact it will have for all Australians.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister says Australia’s shift in pension age is in line with what is happening in other countries such as the USA, Germany and Denmark.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/05/25/2579583.htm?section=justin

Michelle Grattan
May 17, 2009

The Coalition has slashed Labor’s lead and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s popularity has fallen 10 points in an Age/Nielsen poll that also finds people don’t like the budget plan to raise the pension age.

Although most people believe the budget is fair and economically responsible, fewer are happy than with last year’s budget. Significantly more (38 per cent) say they personally will be worse off.

Labor’s two-party vote has fallen five points since March to 53 per cent, while the Opposition has risen five points to 47.

The poll is a reality check for the Government, and should scotch speculation about an early election.

Although they will hearten Opposition ranks, the figures still only take the Coalition back to its 2007 election position.

The Coalition’s primary vote has jumped six points in the past two months, with Labor falling three points. The ALP is now only one point ahead on primaries — 44 to 43 per cent.

This is the highest primary vote the Coalition has had since the election, although last September, with a lower vote, it led Labor on primaries.

In Victoria, the Coalition is five points ahead of Labor on primary votes — from being 20 points behind in March.

Mr Rudd’s approval is down sharply from his peak of 74 per cent but remains at a high 64 per cent; his disapproval has risen 10 points to 32 per cent. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is steady on 43 per cent approval and 47 per cent disapproval.

Mr Rudd has fallen five points to 64 per cent as preferred PM and Mr Turnbull is up four points to 28 per cent.

The national opinion poll of 1400 was taken from Thursday to Saturday.

Pollster John Stirton said that while Mr Rudd’s approval had dropped significantly, John Howard’s approval during his years as prime minister was 64 or better only four times.

Only 40 per cent backed the big budget surprise of a rise — phased in between 2017 and 2023 — from 65 to 67 in the eligibility age for the pension. This is designed to help finance the higher pension rate, boosted in the budget, for an ageing population. The increase was opposed by 56 per cent.

The budget was seen as fair by 56 per cent (down one point compared with the response after last year’s budget); 62 per cent were satisfied with it (down four points), while 52 per cent thought it economically responsible, and 38 per cent said it was not.

People feel notably more disadvantaged by this year’s budget than they did by the first Swan budget. There has been an eight-point fall on a year ago in those who say they will be better off (23 per cent), and an eight-point rise in those believing they will be worse off (38 per cent).

Mr Turnbull confirmed yesterday that the Opposition is set to let through the Government’s $1.3 billion alcopops legislation from last year’s budget, rejected earlier this year, which comes back into Parliament next month. It had been expected to become “trigger” legislation if the Government decided to have a double dissolution.

“We’ve got to take into account the budgetary environment has changed,” Mr Turnbull told Channel Nine. “Last year the budget was solidly in surplus, this year we have a record deficit.”

But the Coalition will vote against the means test on the health insurance rebate, which is worth $1.9 billion over the budget period.

Mr Turnbull said the means test was “an ideological political move to attack private health insurance and had nothing to do with budgetary or financial necessity”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said he had always had private health insurance, “but I don’t expect to be subsidised by taxpayers on low and middle incomes, many of whom can’t afford private health insurance themselves”.

http://www.watoday.com.au/national/rudds-popularity-dives-over-new-pension-age-20090517-b7d2.html?page=-1

It’ll make you a better employee, according to an Australian study that shows surfing the Internet for fun during office hours increases productivity.

The University of Melbourne study showed that people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are about 9 percent more productive that those who do not.

Study author Brent Coker, from the department of management and marketing, said “workplace Internet leisure browsing,” or WILB, helped to sharpened workers’ concentration.

“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” Coker said on the university’s website (www.unimelb.edu.au/)

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity,” he said.

According to the study of 300 workers, 70 percent of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB.

Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites, playing online games and watching videos on YouTube.

“Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos, using social networking sites or shopping online under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity,” said Coker. “That’s not always the case.”

However, Coker said the study looked at people who browsed in moderation, or were on the Internet for less than 20 percent of their total time in the office.

“Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without,” he said.

(Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Valerie Lee)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090402/lf_nm_life/us_work_internet;_ylt=Ajv93cQKOzgitgxsVSCbHBsDW7oF

Rebecca Smith
May 13, 2009

Rebecca Smith: ”To invest in research is to invest in society’s long-term well-being.”
In the last quarter of 2008, a significant group of Australians was living below the poverty line. For a single person, this meant living on less than $415.06 a week. These people were working full time — 40 hours a week, and probably much more. They received no employer superannuation and weren’t entitled to concessions or pensions.

Who were they? Illegal migrant workers? Sweatshop employees unaware of their rights? No — they were some of Australia’s best and brightest minds: PhD students.

A PhD is a long-term research project. PhD students take up these projects after undergraduate studies. They work for about four years to train as independent researchers with the aim of making a significant contribution to knowledge. If successful, a PhD student is awarded a doctorate (D) of philosophy (Ph) and can begin a research career.

Research into the fundamental questions of science and the humanities is what drives a society forward. The application of the resultant knowledge makes a society healthier, wealthier, happier and more productive. To invest in research is to invest in a society’s long-term well-being.

Four reports into research and higher education were delivered to the Government in 2008, and each recommended increasing the nation’s investment in research and development.

In response, the 2009-10 budget increased funding to science and innovation by 25 per cent. For the basic research administered by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Australian Research Council, funds were increased by 8 per cent overall.

These increases will go some way to improving Australia’s gross expenditure on research and development, which was last measured at 2.01 per cent of GDP, below the 2.26 per cent OECD average.

But the budget was another disappointment to PhD students. Their stipends will increase 10 per cent from $20,427 in 2009 to $22,500 in 2010. This is an improvement relative to the 2 per cent increase between 2008 ($20,007) and 2009, but nowhere near what is needed.

The 2008 Parliamentary Inquiry into Research Training and Research Workforce Issues recommended increasing PhD scholarships by 50 per cent to $30,000 a year, and to extend support from 3½ years to 4½ years.

The Cutler and Bradley reviews recommended more modest increases to $25,000 and four years. The Australia 2020 Summit report also suggested formalising research as a career path, like teaching or medicine, and giving researchers the recognition they are due.

The 10 per cent increase is, as Innovation Minister Kim Carr hinted, “as budget permitted”. It’s a reflection of the times and a nod to the advice given to the Government by the reviews of 2008. But it doesn’t acknowledge the true worth of Australia’s researchers to our future prosperity.

Doubling the number of places for PhD students, as the 2008-09 budget allowed, was only half the solution to fulfilling Australia’s future demand for highly skilled workers.

The other half of the solution was to increase PhD stipends. PhD students and the research community were hoping this year’s budget would deliver. It didn’t, and we are still paying our next generation of researchers a relative pittance.

An annual $20,000 or $22,500 PhD stipend (tax-free) is not an adequate financial inducement for talented students who could earn double that amount, and more, by entering the workforce directly after their bachelor’s degree.

If money is what motivates, the result will be that Australia has fewer and fewer researchers in training.

But it is not financial rewards that drive bright, idealistic students into the long and challenging route to their research licences. Those who choose a research career would probably do so regardless of money.

And so we have to ask, is this systematised exploitation of Australia’s young researchers? An out-of-date training model stressed by the economic crisis? A reflection of the entrenched short-sightedness of three-year governments, focused not on building intellectual infrastructure but patching holes? Or an expression of Australia’s sad tendency to shun scholarly achievement and tall poppies? That PhD stipends have remained so low for so long, even in our recent boom, suggests the answer to that.

We could also suggest that a 10 per cent increase to stipends helps students but it helps our politicians more, because, most of all, it helps avoid the embarrassing situation of another financial quarter in which Australia’s future leaders are living below the poverty line.

Dr Rebecca Smith is the founding director of Science Hub Australia, a new organisation for the advancement of Australian scientists and science.

http://www.watoday.com.au/opinion/clever-country-our-brightest-are-kept-dirt-poor-20090513-b3bz.html?page=-1

14 May 2009 8:07am

Many employers will be faced with a new battle to retain their best workers after the Federal Government announced plans to invest $22 billion of its 2009/10 budget in the nation’s infrastructure, says Hewitt’s Australia and New Zealand managing director, David Brown.

“We will see some talent migration due to opportunities that will open up in the infrastructure sector,” Brown told HR Daily.

“Organisations that win tenders will take advantage of the tight talent market.”

Engineers, scientists and others with specialist skills will be in particular demand, he says, and will be difficult to retain as new projects get off the ground.

In the budget papers released on Tuesday night, the Government says that the $22 billion will be invested in roads, rail and ports; education and research projects; hospitals and other treatment facilities; and a clean energy initiative.

It will also contribute $4.7 billion towards the development of a superfast broadband network.

The Government has also committed to:
establishing a paid parental leave scheme (see related article), in which eligible parents will receive 18 weeks’ paid leave at the minimum wage (currently at $543.78) after the birth or adoption of a child;

investing nearly $150 million over four years in the implementation of Fair Work Australia, plus $14.3 million to inform and educate employers and employees on the new workplace relations legislation;

ditching the alternative dispute resolution assistance scheme, in favour of the “less legalistic” approach to dispute resolution allowed for in the above legislation;

investing $1.5 million in training initiatives;

increasing the small and general business tax break to 50 per cent for eligible assets;

increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2023; and

cutting concessional superannuation contribution caps.
Baby boomers left short with superannuation instability
A reduction in the concessional contribution tax limit – from $50,000 to $25,000 – could leave workers closer to retirement with less opportunity to top up their super and make up for recent significant investment losses, according to Mercer’s chief executive, Peter Promnitz.

Long-term changes to pension-age policy are necessary, Promnitz says, but the concessional cuts appear to have been made in isolation from a clear retirement-income framework.

“Tinkering with the system and making piecemeal changes will potentially damage Australians’ confidence in the stability of superannuation rules,” he says.

“Halving the cap on concessional contributions may provide short-term budgetary relief but lacks a long-term plan or foresight.

“Anyone playing catch-up for their retirement income – baby boomers nearing retirement or women out of the workforce for extended periods – will be hit by these changes.”

HR must “recalibrate” retirement planning
Brown says that HR personnel will now need to “recalibrate and think a little harder about retirement planning”, with changes to the superannuation platform and the increase of the retirement age likely to be the areas where the budget has its biggest impact.

The new super rules will affect organisations at all employment levels, he says, leaving employers with the difficult task of determining how to factor in contributions and how to “fit” super into job offers or frame it as a perk.

He says the budget papers also hint at the restriction or removal of executive share options, in line with the general tightening of executive remuneration, although the language used in the budget does not make the nature of the new restrictions particularly clear.

Brown notes that the increased retirement age will be a boon to baby boomers who haven’t yet prepared for their exit from the workplace, but that it could create a “squeeze” as Gen X employees, working their way through the ranks, are blocked from opportunities they would have otherwise expected.

Mixed feelings from business advocate
ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson says that while a boost in infrastructure spending is a “big plus” for employers, the budget doesn’t go far enough to take the pressure off the cost of doing business at a time when the private sector is “doing it very tough”.

Cuts to the skilled migration program could damage labour-market efficiency, he says, and the paid parental leave scheme will expose employers to indirect labour and administrative costs.

“It’s a budget aimed at these tougher times,” he says, “but the mix of big spending and moderated saving is a risky high-wire act.”

Employee advocates are a little more enthused.

“This is a budget for jobs, jobs and jobs, with a bit of tough love on the side,” says ACTU president, Sharan Burrow.

“The achievement of a national paid maternity leave scheme is an historic win for working women.”

Adele Horin
May 14, 2009

“I’m jack of it “…sewer repairer Richard Bishop wants to retire but the later eligibility for the age pension will affect his plans. Photo: James Brickwood

RICHARD BISHOP began working at 14 and after decades of hard manual labour he is keen to retire as soon as possible.

“I’m jack of it,” said the 57-year old who repairs sewers for a living. “I’ve just had a knee reconstruction and by the time I’m 60 I don’t think I’m going to be getting any better. I want to enjoy what I’ve got left.”

Mr Bishop’s plans to put his feet up have been derailed by the Federal Government’s plan progressively to raise the pension eligibility age to 67 from 2017.

He admits the plan will hurt him and he is not alone – most Australian workers will not applaud the initiative, according to social researcher Julia Perry.

“Employers don’t want older workers, and a lot of mature-age workers want out, too,” said Ms Perry, who produced the Too Young To Go report on older workers for the NSW Government.

To prefer to work beyond 60 has always been a minority taste. At most, 25 per cent of mature-age workers enjoy their jobs so much they want to keep going beyond the usual retirement age, research consistently shows. “Only a minority of workers have the kind of job that is exciting or fulfilling,” said Sol Encel, emeritus professor at the University of NSW who is an expert on the ageing population. “Work is a chore for most people, especially as they age.”

Yet most experts agree the decision to lift the pension age is a necessity in the absence of higher tax rates to fund burgeoning health and aged care services, as well as pensions and superannuation concessions for a greying population. Australia is following a trend set by the US, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. In Britain 68 is the age for pension eligibility.

Australia’s plan will affect workers now aged 57 or younger. Those aged 55.5 to 57 will not be eligible for a pension until they are 65.5 and those aged 52.5 or younger not until 67.

Australians appeared to be resigned to their fate, Professor Encel said.

In the past decade, workers have reversed the trend to early retirement. Since 1998, the proportion of men aged 60-64 in the workforce has risen from 43 per cent to 52 per cent, and the proportion aged 65-69 has jumped from 19 per cent to 27 per cent, with most working part-time. For women the proportion of those aged 60-64 in work has almost doubled to 36 per cent.

But most, Professor Encel said, were economic conscripts. “The boomers have come to realise they don’t have the money to retire at 60. They’ve got responsibilities upscale and downscale – ageing parents and dependent children,” he said. “And they know if they have to rely on the pension, they’ll suffer a dramatic drop in lifestyle.”

Ms Perry said it was regrettable to compel low-skilled and low-paid workers, many with health problems, to work longer for the pension if highly skilled workers continued to be able to retire early by accessing superannuation at 55 or getting it tax free at 60.

The Henry review of the tax system recommended the preservation age for super be aligned with the age pension age.

If employees are expected to work longer, employer attitudes will need to change, experts say. “It’s a good idea to encourage people to work longer but you have to encourage employers to employ them longer,” Ms Perry said.

David Murray, 57, a company director, said though he was unlikely to be affected by the change in the eligibility age, he had lost retirement savings in the downturn. “Most people have lost 25 to 30 per cent of their retirement funds, so it’s going to take them another four to eight years before they can start to recoup some of that. Most retirements have been pushed out anyway.”

with Jonathan Dart

http://www.smh.com.au/national/too-young-to-retire-and-too-old-to-work-20090513-b3dt.html?page=-1

Misha Schubert, Daniella Miletic and Peter Martin
May 14, 2009

AUSTRALIANS could be forced to wait until they are 67 to get access to their superannuation savings under a radical proposal to be considered later this year by the Rudd Government.

A day after flagging a rise in the pension age to 67, the Government has confirmed it will look at introducing the same age limit for super access – in effect making 67 a universal minimum retirement age.

Bringing the superannuation age into line with a higher pension age was recommended by Treasury secretary Ken Henry in a review published with the federal budget papers on Tuesday.

Dr Henry’s plan, for a phased lifting of the super age from 60 to 67 from 2024, is part of a broad push to keep Australians at work longer to help the nation cope financially with its ageing population.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan said the Government would “thoroughly assess the findings of the Henry review when they are delivered at the end of the year”. But he stressed that the super issue would not be considered before then.

The plan could be even more controversial than the budget decision to lift the pension age.

Jane Chisholm, 53, was unhappy enough at the idea of having to stay in the workforce beyond 65 before she could even think about applying for the age pension.

“They are finally getting us baby boomers back, I guess,” said Ms Chisholm, marketing manager of Gasworks Arts Park in Albert Park.

But she expressed stronger misgivings at the proposal to lift the super access age. While she understood the need to prepare the nation for people living and working longer, she said the super proposal was cruel.

“People like to think they could have control of the money that is there for their retirement,” Ms Chisholm said. “If you want to go travelling and do some of the things you want to do, it’s just putting it closer to the 70 mark, when you can’t count on your health.”

The move to raise the pension age sparked fierce debate, with critics saying it would entrench inequality and force more old people into poverty.

Mr Swan said the decision was needed to keep pensions sustainable. “Currently we have five workers in Australia for every person aged 65 and over and by 2050, that will be 2½,” he said in a post-budget interview.

“Life expectancy has increased by 23 years since the age pension came in,” he said. “Twice as many people are going on it for twice as long.”

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull supported the pension age increase, saying his only concern was that it would not come in soon enough.

National Seniors also backed the move, noting that it would not come in until 2023.

But critics highlighted the contrast between the rich getting access to super at 60 (at least under existing rules), while the poor were being forced to work or stay on the dole until 67.

The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association warned the move would add to poverty among over-65s and force some to toil longer at hard physical labour. “People in their 50s and 60s are often unable to find adequate employment,” said the association’s policy officer, Charmaine Crowe.

But she backed the idea of aligning the pension and superannuation ages, saying it would ensure more equality between richer and poor retirees, keep skilled people in the workforce longer and boost super savings.

Sydney University workplace relations centre analyst Michael Rafferty said increasing the pension age would entrench inequality and force some of the hardest working people in the world to work even longer.

He also pointed to what he said was a disparity between the pension decision and the mild cuts in the budget to tax breaks on superannuation. “The rich have been hit with a feather duster and the poor have been told you are going to work longer and harder,” he said.

Australian Council of Social Service chief Clare Martin said lifting the pension age to 67 might disadvantage “lower-income, mature-age people with limited job prospects, who will have to remain on lower income support payments for longer”.

UNSW Centre for Pensions and Superannuation deputy director John Evans said the pension age rise was a “knee-jerk” decision that could damage the vulnerable.

But Brotherhood of St Laurence chief executive Tony Nicholson said raising the pension age was inevitable to ensure the long-term sustainability of the system.

David Knox, a partner at Mercer Consulting who proposed the 67 pension age in a paper prepared for the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, also welcomed the decision.

But he expressed dismay at the proposal to lift the super preservation age to 67.

“The superannuation access age should generally be about five years younger than the pension age in order to provide flexibility. You cannot assume that everyone will retire at the same age, in fact today most people retire before 65.”

Superannuation access is at present available at 55, with the age set to climb to 60 by 2024. The Henry Review recommends a further staged increased to 67, after which it would remain aligned with the pension age in order to stop Australians spending their super payout quickly and then getting access to the part-pension.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/push-to-lock-up-superannuation-savings-until-age-67-20090513-b39y.html?page=-1

By Joe Hildebrand
The Daily Telegraph
May 12, 2009 12:01am

SYDNEY grandmother Patricia Pitfield was forced out of her job by retail giant Myer – because she could not do squats.

Bosses told the 61-year-old, who has been with the company for three decades, to stay home without pay after they ruled she was not physically fit enough for the clerical job she has done for the past 10 years.

Ms Pitfield was asked to squat in front of a human resources manager and attempt to climb steps without holding a railing. When she was unable to do so she was sent home.

Myer claims that without being able to do a full squat Ms Pitfield will be unable to open a bottom drawer or plug in a cash register and is therefore unfit for work – even though her doctor has declared her able.

Yet despite having no income, she cannot take unfair dismissal action or even claim Centrelink benefits because Myer has not fired her.

Nor can she pursue a worker’s compensation claim because her condition was not caused by her job.

She said she was first sent home in January after she produced a doctor’s report stating she was unable to fully squat because of a bad back and knee replacement surgery.

She had to use all her sick and annual leave which ran out after a few weeks and then was paid nothing.

The United Services Union took the company to the Industrial Relations Commission in early April but the commission was unable to rule her dismissal had been unfair as she had not actually been fired.

During the conciliation process Myer said it would re-employ Ms Pitfield, yet when she went to work three weeks ago a human resources officer asked her to squat while keeping her back straight. She protested she could not do that, only a “semi-squat”.

“As soon as I went back in they made me do the safe workplace practices test (a written test for which she got a perfect score) and they said to do this squatting,” she said.

“The same day they sent me home after I failed the test. They said, ‘You’re still employed but we’ve got no work for you.’ They said, ‘We’re not paying you’.”

Ms Pitfield said the process was degrading.

The USU, which branded the store’s actions “barbaric”, is now considering legal action including suing for lost wages and going to the Anti-Discrimination Board.

Myer confirmed she wasn’t allowed to work due to health issues and backed its move not to pay her when she was away.

http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,25465168-5012426,00.html

May boost industry
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CHINA’S second largest car manufacturer is keen to strike deals with its struggling Australian counterparts, a move that may breathe life into the Rudd Government’s $6 billion restructure of the industry.

The entreaty by Dongfeng Motor Corp, one of China’s big three state-owned car makers, follows its rival Cherry establishing a research centre in Australia, and Australian companies Futuris and Bosch subsidiary PBR using China to manufacture parts.

The brightest spot in China’s exploding automotive manufacturing sector is the green car, with the country leading the world in sales and development of electric vehicles, The Australian reports.

This is understood to be a key area of interest in Australia for Dongfeng, which dovetails nicely with the green big-car component of Canberra’s $6 billion bailout of the sector last year.

Senior Dongfeng executives plan to join a delegation from the company’s home city of Wuhan to Australia in July. The delegation, headed by the Wuhan Communist Party secretary, wants to develop new trade relationships between the 11-million strong city in central China and Australian businesses.

“Dongfeng are very keen to develop strategic partnerships with our auto industry for component supply,” Trade Minister Simon Crean said after a visit to Wuhan last week.

“What we have to encourage – because they are the big growth in autos – is our strength in the auto sector.”

In the past quarter China passed the US in the sales of regular cars for the first time. In April passenger sales rose 37.4 per cent from a year earlier to a record high, according to figures released last Friday.

“They (Dongfeng) are doing a whole lot of joint ventures,” Mr Crean said. “They want to develop their own brands. What we offer therefore is the competitive edge with design and innovation and component supply to help them to achieve that objective.”

Dongfeng already has joint-venture arrangements with Nissan, Renault and Kia. But the Chinese manufacturer’s desire to build its own brands and establish its own supply chains provides an opportunity for Australia, people close to last week’s talks say.

“The Australian auto sector basically since the Button car plan has understood the importance of innovation globally,” Mr Crean said. “Why couldn’t it be engaging with the global behemoth in autos?”

Still, a record number of China’s 61 listed car and parts makers are now posting losses.

As the small cars making up most of the volume in the market add little to manufacturers’ bottom lines, they are looking offshore for growth, while most large Western car makers conduct fire sales to ward off collapse.

Read more at The Australian.
http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,25466393-462,00.html?referrer=email&source=eDM_newspulse