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Golden Toilet Brush

June 15th, 2006

The new IR laws take us back in many ways to the conditions of the 19th century. In some ways this is good for trade unions, since they need to campaign actively, rather than relying on industrial courts and awards. The LHMU which covers cleaners is taking the lead with its Clean Start: Fair Deal for Cleaners. Many employers have agreed with the broad principles of the campaign, described here. Others have not and the first Golden Toilet Brush has been awarded to property company Allco which has declined repeated invitations to meet cleaners’ representatives.

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  1. June 15th, 2006 at 14:15 | #1

    Good luck on the campaign. Having worked long hours, I’ve run into so many cleaners over the years – generally after 7 or 8 in the evening. We all have. A lot of them may not have the best English in the world… but one got the sense that slowly but surely they were working their way into the mainstream.

    Don’t forget that the union represents property security as well. Do I want to be coshed after leaving work after an all-nighter? No thanks.

  2. June 15th, 2006 at 15:47 | #2

    I am interested to know if you endorse this campaign John? That individual firms have a responsibility to supplement wages beyond market levels to ensure that workers enjoy a socially-acceptible wage. Or do you join with the majority of economists who would claim that social justice in achieving adequate wages is a responsibility of the tax/transfer mechanism not individual firms and that, trying to get individual firms to meet such wages will create nothing but misery for unskilled workers by guaranteeing that many of them won’t get jobs at all?

    The selfish predictable role of the trade union here is transparent – protect the interests of those with jobs and to hell with those unfortunates who don’t. And the Labor Party, as it is structured with 50% control by a group representing 20% of the workforce, must do the union bidding – look after the employed while bleating pathetically about the unemployed and while simultaneously introducing policies that will create more of them.

    The move on AWAs a case in point – a regrettable spinal collapse by Mr Beazley.

  3. stoptherubbish
    June 15th, 2006 at 17:57 | #3

    Harry Clarke, the majority of economists who understand anything at all about productivity, know that the highly abstract and rationalist theories concerning ‘market clearing wages’ are simply arguments for increasing the amount of the surplus produced that goes to CEOs and shareholders. In the real world the labour market, meaning people who need to work to live, come in a variety of states of readiness, skills etc; to employers who are not necessarily in the places where these profit creating inputs actually live. Employers are interested in profits, not theories about the proper market clearing wage, let alone productivity.The idea that members of a family where Mum and Dad have their penalty rates cut in order to ensure that junior gets a minimum wage job sans any rights at all, will be grateful to Kevin Andrews and the BCA is laughable, to all but members of the BCA and the sole member of the Kevin Andrews fan club.

    Oh and BTW, you really should check the polling on whom people believe and trust when it comes to information about wages, conditions and rights at work. Hint. It isn’t Big Business, the Daily Liargraph, Allan Jones or business spruikers masquerading as economists. Guess which ‘selfish interest group’ is trusted most on these questions?

  4. jquiggin
    June 15th, 2006 at 20:14 | #4

    Harry, I’d point to the difference in aggregate outcomes between the US and other developed countries. The US has consistently higher inequality and lower real wages for less-skilled workers and this gap has increased dramatically since around 1970 when union power began to decline in the US.

    Employment-population ratios in the US are higher than in some European countries but by no means all.

    I conclude that strengthening the bargaining position of employed workers benefits the working class as a whole.

  5. June 15th, 2006 at 20:17 | #5

    I recall that one of the criticisms frequently raised against the PM was he had a mindset stuck in the 1950s. It appears theat criticism was unfounded, unless “1950s “was a typographical error for “1850s”.

    If my experiences working for a trade union in the mid 1980s are still valid, the need to actively campaign and recruit members is no bad thing. In those days there many businesses were closed shops in all but name which tended to breed a degree of laziness (or worse)in the minds of many union officials . While the majority were hard working and sought to improve the lot of their members, a significant minority viewed the membership as little more than a means to further careers, especially when it came to gaining the numbers for pre selection for (preferably) a safe seat. Hopefully, operating in an enviroment where membership has to cultivated rather than provided will lead to a lessening of these abuses which have helped to tarnish the good name of trade unionism.

  6. June 15th, 2006 at 20:52 | #6

    John, On the US evidence. US unemployment is quite low but unskilled wages are very low? Would this not suggest strong further tax relief for low income workers, supplementary transfers and such things as a national health scheme. Or are there constraints in doing this?

    I strongly support moves to liberalise labour markets but agree that the incomes of those at the bottom of the ladder should be protected. This suggests to me something like a negative income tax. This would not have to be dogmatically implemented – only active job seekers or those unable to work for medical or other reasons would get it – but basically a minimum level of remuneration would be guaranteed to all with there always being incentives to take extra work even if it was not particularly well paid.

    A rough approximation to this would be to pay a wage subsidy to those whose weekly incomes falls below a certain amount.

    And one thing I do agree with you on is that the case for further tax cuts on middle and high income earners is weak. There are other priorities particularly in education but also redistriibutive priorities.

  7. steve munn
    June 15th, 2006 at 21:36 | #7

    Harry, I have some sympathy for your view but it ignores the reality that the Howard Government has absolutely no intention of providing adequate assistance to low income earners. As such unskilled workers on low incomes can only better their pay and conditions through unionisation.

  8. SJ
    June 15th, 2006 at 22:15 | #8

    I concur with steve munn.

    In the US the probability of tax relief for low income earners, increased transfer payments, and a national health care scheme is approximately zero.

  9. SJ
    June 15th, 2006 at 22:17 | #9

    I should have said “And in the US…”

  10. milano803
    June 15th, 2006 at 22:37 | #10

    SJ, I agree there won’t be tax relief specifically for low earners in the US as low earners already don’t pay much tax, in many cases, they pay no tax at all. Nationalized healthcare unfortunately lowers the standard of healthcare for all, leading the wealthy in any country, to continue to get better service through private insurance. Most states in the US have insurance pools for low earners and uninsurables.

  11. SJ
    June 15th, 2006 at 23:00 | #11

    ..low earners already don’t pay much tax..

    Well, yeah, they don’t pay much tax because they don’t earn much. Hence the term “low income earners”. But the rates are 10% up to $7,300, then 15% up to $29,700. 10% or 15% does not equate to “pay no tax at all”.

    Nationalized healthcare unfortunately lowers the standard of healthcare for all

    Most of the western world has some form of nationalised healthcare. Wherever you look, Canada, Australia, the U.K, France, the health outcomes are at least as good as the US, and the costs are lower.

    …leading the wealthy in any country, to continue to get better service through private insurance.

    I’ve got private insurance, but I haven’t made a claim for about four years, despite having made dozens of visits to the doctor for my children. That’s because, in Australia, the public system is perfectly adequate.

  12. milano803
    June 15th, 2006 at 23:27 | #12

    “Well, yeah, they don’t pay much tax because they don’t earn much.”

    that’s correct.

    “But the rates are 10% up to $7,300, then 15% up to $29,700. 10% or 15% does not equate to “pay no tax at allâ€?.”

    You’re forgetting deductions and credits. If you earn $7300, you’re paying no income tax at all. Look into “Earned Income Tax Credit”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earned_Income_Tax_Credit

    I understand that some people prefer nationalized healthcare. I personally, from my experience with such systems, believe that the standards of care are NOT up to US standards. I wouldn’t prefer Canada’s system and many Canadians don’t either, opting to come to the US for care or for private insurance.

    “I’ve got private insurance,”

    why, if the system in Australia is perfectly adequate?

    But we’re getting off the subject. To get back to it, I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of cleaners in Australia (or anywhere else), but I have a question. If cleaners start at minimum wages, do they never receive increases from their employers without union intervention?

  13. SJ
    June 15th, 2006 at 23:55 | #13

    I understand that some people prefer nationalized healthcare. I personally, from my experience with such systems, believe that the standards of care are NOT up to US standards. I wouldn’t prefer Canada’s system and many Canadians don’t either, opting to come to the US for care or for private insurance.

    What experience, exactly, do you have with such systems? If you’re a US citizen, you probably aren’t entitled to use any of those systems. You also seem to be rather ignorant of the facts regarding the Us healthcare system.

    “I’ve got private insurance,�

    why, if the system in Australia is perfectly adequate?

    Private insurance was mandated for certain taxpayers by Australia’s current froot-loop government. As far as I can tell, it was done as a sop to the insurance companies. I’m no expert in this area, however, so if any Australian commenters want to set the record straight, please feel free.

  14. SJ
    June 16th, 2006 at 00:04 | #14

    You’re forgetting deductions and credits. If you earn $7300, you’re paying no income tax at all. Look into “Earned Income Tax Credit�. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earned_Income_Tax_Credit

    10% tax on $7300 would be $730. The $380 credit doesn’t seem to me to reduce $730 to “no income tax at all”

  15. Jill Rush
    June 16th, 2006 at 00:21 | #15

    The push to outsource cleaning has resulted in a system where the profits of cleaning companies are squeezed to a level where the cleaners themselves, working terrible hours, earn a pittance.

    Awards won through union action provide a better level of protection than will ever be won through individual contracts.

    AWAs will not be understood by the many non English speakers and will help entrench an underclass and a society where we are anything but egalitarian.

    There will be those who don’t feel that in a rich country decent wages should be available to all when they work – they prefer to have high walls and class warfare.

    I am surprised that Mr Beazley has come out so strongly but there is a world of difference with AWAs which use collective bargaining agreements to act as a standard, to AWAs which have a minimum set of conditions which most of us have left behind. Women such as cleaners are especially disadvantaged as most will not have the skills to negotiate.

  16. Seeker
    June 16th, 2006 at 06:18 | #16

    milano803 says: “Nationalized healthcare unfortunately lowers the standard of healthcare for all,…”

    Yeah? Well then how do you explain the following completely opposite conclusion from a recent major trans-Atlantic study?

    Based on self-reported illnesses and biological markers of disease, US residents are much less healthy than their English counterparts and these differences exist at all points of the SES [socio-economic status] distribution.”

    Source: ‘Disease and disadvantage in the United States and in England’; Banks J, et al; Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006 May 3;295(17):2037-45. (PMID Number: 16670412)

    Note that this finding holds true across the entire SES gradient, from poorest to richest, meaning even the richest people in the US have substantially poorer health than their English SES counterparts. Indeed, those at the top of the education and income scale in the US suffered diabetes and heart disease at a similar rate to those at the bottom of the same scale in England!

    Three additional facts:

    1) It is a large sample, high quality study, by highly respected experts, including the Australia born (Sir) Michael Marmot, lead author of the famous long-running British Whitehall studies into the important influence of SES on long-term health, and who is undoubtedly one of the world’s leading medical epidemiologists. So you will have difficulty dismissing this study.

    The main reason Marmot proposes for this finding is that people in England (under a nationalised health system) are more secure than their US counterparts for basic healthcare, and they know it. That is, having a guaranteed healthcare system, even a troubled one like the British NHS, is an important positive psychological (or psychosocial) factor in general health outcomes.

    “To a much greater extent England has set up programmes whose goal is to isolate individuals from the economic consequences of poor health in terms of their medical expenditure and especially earnings and wealth reduction.� M Marmot.

    And the US has not.

    2) The US spends over twice the money per capita on health care as the UK.

    3) Over 40 million people in the US have no health insurance of any kind, other than basic emergency treatment at hospitals.

    So, are you still so sure that nationalised health systems are (technically, economically or morally) inferior to privatised ones?

  17. milano803
    June 16th, 2006 at 08:00 | #17

    “10% tax on $7300 would be $730. ”

    You’re forgetting deductions and credits. I find the US tax system is not well understood outside the US. But that isn’t the subject of the thread. Someone making $7300 a year would pay zero tax.

    “What experience, exactly, do you have with such systems?”

    family.

    “Private insurance was mandated for certain taxpayers by Australia’s current froot-loop government.”

    that’s interesting

    “Yeah? Well then how do you explain the following completely opposite conclusion from a recent major trans-Atlantic study?”

    look at who did the study

    “The US spends over twice the money per capita on health care as the UK.”

    Most Americans wouldn’t want to hear that every expense has been spared on their healthcare. I know we spend a lot on healthcare but we get a lot too.

    “Over 40 million people in the US have no health insurance of any kind”

    but not no healthcare. Whereas, you can have insurance in a nationalized system yet not be able to get care.

    “So, are you still so sure that nationalised health systems are (technically, economically or morally) inferior to privatised ones?”

    I don’t know of any nationalized system I’d trade the US system for. But again, we’re off the subject.

  18. Bosco
    June 16th, 2006 at 08:26 | #18

    Cleaners.

    From my limited experience, it is the larger companies that contract smaller ‘mum n dad’ companies to do their cleaning. These MnD companies then have to compete in a cut throat business by reducing costs, and maintaining quality at the same time.

    My experience showed me that I was expected to do ‘X’ amount of cleaning in ‘Y’ amount of time with the result that the ‘cleaning’ was not making things clean, but merely a ‘white wash’ with deodorising agents.

  19. milano803
    June 16th, 2006 at 08:38 | #19

    Did the clients not complain, Bosco?

  20. wilful
    June 16th, 2006 at 09:32 | #20

    Seeker, please do not attempt to introduce statistics or studies or facts into any debate with any person seeking to defend the US model of healthcare – I have discovered that they would always much prefer their anecdotal experience!

    As for the claim that nasty unions are stopping everybody getting a job as a cleaner, oh good grief, what a load of unreal absurdity. I really wonder how much real-world experience near the coalface people who make those claims have. I’ve been a cleaner and known enough cleaners to know that enough of the bosses out there are absolutely in need of union pressure to ensure they maintain basic human decency.

    It’s a no skills job typically paid cash for migrants with limited english, working on their own and fragmented, often with no idea of their rights or who to turn to. More power to the LHMU!

  21. Seeker
    June 16th, 2006 at 11:10 | #21

    Seeker: “Yeah? Well then how do you explain the following completely opposite conclusion from a recent major trans-Atlantic study?�

    milano803: “look at who did the study

    It was an international (“trans-Atlantic”) study with one of the four authors being an American who was closely involved in all stages of the study.

    Although I will admit that he also just happens to work for those notorious socialists the Rand Corporation, and that part of the funding for the study came from another well-known hot-bed of communist sympathisers, the US government (National Institute for Aging).

    Did you read the study? It is available for free online.

    Do you actually have any serious technical criticisms of the study? Because your superficial six-word political dismissal of a very solid piece of research won’t wash with anyone in the medical science community.

    This is hardly the only study to point out major chronic systemic and increasingly serious failings in the US healthcare system. I would also bet that the senior managers and policy advisers in both the private and public components of the US healthcare system are taking these studies very seriously indeed. They would love to deliver a similar service at half the cost, and presumably you would like to pay half your current premiums.

    Most Americans wouldn’t want to hear that every expense has been spared on their healthcare. I know we spend a lot on healthcare but we get a lot too.

    Well, every reasonable expense, certainly. But I am also pretty damn sure they don’t want to hear that they are paying vastly more for a considerably inferior service.

    I dispute strongly that you get a lot for your health dollar in the US. You are making the fundamental mistake of assuming that higher expenditure equals better outcomes, which just isn’t so, as the Banks study, along with others, have clearly demonstrated.

  22. milano803
    June 16th, 2006 at 11:27 | #22

    “It was an international (â€?trans-Atlanticâ€?) study”

    done by whom?

    “Well, every reasonable expense, certainly.”

    No, I don’t think Americans would want that either. We’re pretty demanding about the latest tests, pharmaceuticals, etc, if there is even a chance it will work. And we don’t like waiting lines. And we like choosing our own doctors. And we like second and third and fourth opinions. There’s a reason that doctors from Canada like coming to the US to work, aside from the fact that they can make more here. They also have access to better research, better equipment, better funding, no waiting lines for patients etc. There’s also a reason the US leads the world in healthcare research.

    “I dispute strongly that you get a lot for your health dollar in the US. ”

    Certainly your right to do so.

    “You are making the fundamental mistake of assuming that higher expenditure equals better outcomes”

    You can spend a fortune and still die. Anywhere. But you’re making the mistake of missing the fact that as people become wealthier, healthcare, along with education, are 2 items they are more willing to spend big on.

  23. Seeker
    June 16th, 2006 at 11:31 | #23

    Wilful, point taken. :-) I just get a bit hot under the collar when someone casually trashes serious research. I spend most of my working week dealing with a peer-review science database, and I know how much care and effort goes into most of these papers, especially a major work like the Banks paper. Critics don’t have to agree with the findings or conclusions of a paper, but they had better come up with some solid arguments against it. Not just smear by ad hoc political association.

    And, to get back on topic finally:

    I’ve been a cleaner and known enough cleaners to know that enough of the bosses out there are absolutely in need of union pressure to ensure they maintain basic human decency.

    Been there, done that, and agree completely. I think people are far too ready to forget the substantial positive contributions that the (admittedly imperfect) unions make to a better society. Most of Howard’s ‘Battlers’, or is it ‘Aspirationals’, wouldn’t have anything like the opportunities and work conditions they do today without the historical and ongoing role of the unions.

  24. Seeker
    June 16th, 2006 at 11:35 | #24

    “done by whom?”

    Read the paper.

  25. milano803
    June 16th, 2006 at 11:35 | #25

    Here are the study authors. I wonder if two researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London would be fans of a US style system from an idealogical standpoint. (although even the US has some government provided health insurance of course, quite a lot of it, in fact)

    “University College London and Institute for Fiscal Studies (Dr Banks), Department of Epidemiology, University College London (Dr Marmot) and Institute for Fiscal Studies (Ms Oldfield), London, England; and RAND Corp, Santa Monica, Calif (Dr Smith).”

  26. Terje (say TAY-A)
    June 16th, 2006 at 12:05 | #26

    I am all in favour of an increase in the tax free threshold. John Humphreys has proposed a $30k tax free income threshold which I think would be a good move towards improving the income level for those on low pay.

  27. June 16th, 2006 at 12:23 | #27

    “To a much greater extent England has set up programmes whose goal is to isolate individuals from the economic consequences of poor health in terms of their medical expenditure and especially earnings and wealth reduction.� M Marmot.

    And the US has not.

    2) The US spends over twice the money per capita on health care as the UK.

    3) Over 40 million people in the US have no health insurance of any kind, other than basic emergency treatment at hospitals.

    I’ve read that a high proportion of personal bankruptcies in the US are due to illness, and that the “middle class” are quite embattled as they’re only a cancer or a heart attack away from falling into the “working poor”.

    Isn’t tying medical benefits to work a stupid idea? Surely the unemployed are even more likely to suffer chronic illness, due to poverty, stress, malnutrition and socioeconomic factors?

  28. milano803
    June 16th, 2006 at 12:35 | #28

    “Isn’t tying medical benefits to work a stupid idea? Surely the unemployed are even more likely to suffer chronic illness, due to poverty, stress, malnutrition and socioeconomic factors?”

    the unemployed would be on government provided health insurance or HIPPA.

  29. stoptherubbish
    June 16th, 2006 at 15:36 | #29

    The high costs and inefficiencies of the US health care model as a way of delivering efficient and effective universal health care was quoted by GM as a key reason for their decision to move operations to Canada. Tying health insurance to employment is arguably the worst model possible for the delivery of health insurance, since each employer has an inbuilt incentive to resist demands which include payment of health benefits as part of the overall remuneration package, while as a group they have an interest in a healthy workforce.

    That 40 million Americans have no insurance whatsoever, and that middle class salary earners risk losing their homes if they get a heart attack or cancer would be laughable if it weren’t so sad for both the people who suffer the US model, and for what this situation says about the complete inability of the US working and middle classes to successfully demand what other people in working liberal democracies have been successful in achieving since the second world war.

  30. wilful
    June 16th, 2006 at 15:48 | #30

    Amongst the 40 million USians without healthcare are, I’m sure, a large number of janitorial staff. Of course, a huge proportion of cleaners in the US are illegal immigrants with no union coverage and very few protections. I’m sure that if we adopt even more of the US model of doing business, we will all be happier, healthier and and a better society. Right?

  31. Seeker
    June 17th, 2006 at 00:21 | #31

    milano803: Pathetic.

    You were right, wilful, it is a waste of time.

  32. milano803
    June 17th, 2006 at 05:43 | #32

    “That 40 million Americans have no insurance whatsoever”

    {sigh} but not no healthcare. Remember, insurance is not care.

    “The high costs and inefficiencies of the US health care model as a way of delivering efficient and effective universal health care was quoted by GM as a key reason for their decision to move operations to Canada.”

    GM moved parts of the company to Canada to save money.at the expense of employee healthcare. In fact, Canada’s GM president, Michael Grimaldi is campaigning to maintain Canada’s public healthcare system specifically BECAUSE it reduces total labor costs for automobile manufacturing firms, not because it’s better for their employees. Just another example of a company putting profit before people.

  33. milano803
    June 17th, 2006 at 05:53 | #33

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A34899-2004Mar5?language=printer

    “But while the Big Three automakers told Canadians that their nationalized health insurance system helped preserve jobs, and lobbied the Canadian government last year to maintain the program, their corporate executives are not willing to go that far when it comes to health care in the United States.”

    Could that be because their corporate executives aren’t interested in a Canada-style system for THEMSELVES?

  34. Lukas Neill
    June 19th, 2006 at 18:06 | #34

    The justice of the cleaners’ case is undeniable- big property owners are making record profits on the backs of cleaners’ sweated labour. The size of the area they clean is around 1000 square metres per hour in Australia- far too large to clean properly. It’s in the interest of the cleaners and the people who use city offices, and in fact the property owners and cleaning contractors for cleaners to be paid fairly and to be treated with respect.

  35. mr.footy
    July 7th, 2006 at 16:19 | #35

    john i guess ur writng this because your a cleaner.

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