Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

46 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. SATP – Victoria and the 2 territories are actually the only bits of Australia I’ve never worked in, so I’m not quite sure what your reference to Victoria was all about.

    As to your comment on my comment. I take neither seriously. Mine was intentionally daft and entirely tongue-in-cheek. Yours was manifestly mere spillage of far-right prejudice.

    I’ve had several good employers, many bad, and a few atrocious ones. But there’s a clear pattern to that distribution. Since I started working as a programmer, most of my employers have been good, treating me well, paying decent wages, etc. Before I worked in IT, in a variety of low-paid jobs over many years (kitchen work, farm labouring, office temping etc), most of my employers were bad ones (abusive, unfair, prejudiced, sexually predatory etc).

    The lesson I take from my experience is that employers will do what they can get away with. They are of course neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ as a whole, but operate as dictated by the system they find themselves in. The ‘freer’ (ie. unhemmed in by regulation, custom, or employee scarcity) they are, the worse they will tend to be.

    Your “nor am I willing to” comment is actually rather revealing. It demonstrates my point on prejudice. You imply that someone you know absolutely nothing about is lying or lazy because their report doesn’t happen to match your experience. You quote what impressed you as a pithy phrase you happened to hear once as if it is of some significance (the cliche-repetition approach to avoidance of listening or thinking). You make no allowance for the fact that any person’s experience, including your own, may well be a biased sample.

    You clearly would be incapable of making a fair judgement on any person’s statement that doesn’t accidentally chime with your narrow world-view. I’m glad I don’t work for you, and pity any that do.

  2. Get your hand off it Crispin. Good jobs have never been that difficult to find. These days they are there for the asking, there is a chronic shortage of workers. It is a sellers market. Been a while since you attended a Klan meeting if you suspect I have far right prejudices.

    You pity any who work for me? Time to change hands mate, you ain’t got no idea on nuthin’.

  3. Umm, Terje, when I said I have nothing to apologise to the Australian Labor Market for, I meant exactly that. The personal hygiene habits of James Packer or anyone else are of little interest to me.

    The bottom of the barrel employees have been getting a very good deal for quite some time in Australia.

    I can promise you, in my industry, hospitality, NOBODY gets a better than average deal from me unless they ARE clean, reliable, cheerful etc. This was not my point.

    I meant that the labour market is saturated with empty jobs, and the average standard of people applying for jobs (if any) has slipped alarmingly in the past couple of years.

    More than half of Australians who hit me up for a job, or who respond to an advertised job, are not worth the trouble of taking them on, despite myabsolute desperation for more staff.

    This is not only my decision, I have a core of good people who take one look at what is coming into the office for an interview, and tell me they will work double shifts, 7 days per week, rather than have “that person” on the staff. And they do, I have staff who routinely work 14 hours per day, and have not had a day off this year. Experience has taught them that this is less exertion and trouble for them than for me to hire an average of the job applicants.

    Every employer in my town has far harder trouble than me, I can at least drag people in off the street (so to speak) & the odd one will turn out a gem. Many jobs require skilled staff, those employers are in real trouble. For example, the following positions in my town have not had an applicant for over a year, some for longer, Dentist, Doctor, Motor Mechanic, Boilermaker, Legal Secretary, Medical Receptionist.

  4. Ian Gould :”What did you have in mind, saturation boming of Honiara”

    Stopping the rioting is different to arresting people for crimes. I’m sure some people could and should be arrested. I believe the current number is 1. There also appears to be video footage and many of the perpetrators are presumably known, given the small population size. You might also have some UN presence, rather than just Australian and NZ to help with trials.

    In any case, if no-one deserves to go to jail for such acts, where the majority group targets a very small minority, then surely it suggests that they are legitamate. Its easy to think of examples of this around the world where people do care when minority groups are targeted (Zimbabwe, for instance), so I don’t see how asking for some type legal process to arrest the main perptrators is wrong.

  5. SATP – the judgement you draw from the fact that my experience of the employee/employer relationship in this country leads me to different conclusions from yours is that I am a lazy, lying, wanker.

    And you expect anyone (other than those in your power) to take your ability to make judgments about the quality of prospective employees seriously?

  6. If you follow debates about monetary theory then you might know that Glenn Hubbard of the Columbia Business School was a candidate to replace Alan Greenspan as head of the US Federal reserve. He is often regarded from the supply-side school of thought.


    The following is a link to a very funny satirical music video by the students at the Columbia Business School. It is sung by a Glenn Hubbard look alike and is about Ben Bernanke (who did get Alan Greenspans old job).


  7. The debate on employment has degenerated in this thread to a point where it seems a different point of view is required.

    Over the past ten years the responsibility for training has become the responsibility of the individual. However those described above as being “the bottom of the barrel” often need significant help to understand that employers will not take them on and train them, that they have to meet certain standards in hygiene, dress and timeliness.

    The Keating government’s success in lifting the unemployable into the ranks of the employed was abandoned by the Liberal coalition who had other plans. The changes to the training sector have privatised the responsibility without providing those with limited education and skills a practical method to gain the required education and skills. Employers don’t wish to take on this expensive exercise and increasingly seem to be happy to take those trained in another country and benefit from losses to the third world in terms of doctors, engineers etc. Hardly a benefit of globalisation to third world countries.

    Employers once relied on government instrumentalities to train people and then gained the benefits afterwards. This suited employers and achieved nation building. With so much government work privatised and outsourced these traditional training methods have dried up. Similarly the short sighted cuts in funding to universities have resulted in increasing shortages in graduates- along with better prospects overseas for those who do meet their own costs. Pay and conditions do matter.

    Until the Federal Government recognises that its policies of leaving it to market forces has resulted in significant market failures however don’t expect to find the labor force matched to the labor needs of employers. I expect however that we will have worse results for many years to come as ideology will create a workforce where education and training is only for those at the top of the barrel. There is no quick fix and that is all the current Job Network is capable of offering.

  8. Jill Rush :

    I think you (like many people) are missing one piece of the puzzle — that is Australians evidentally don’t place too much value on the long term training of themselves, at least in comparison to other countries. Australians are not willing to, say, pay the type of fees many Americans do for a good university education (and indeed, a reasonable percentage of those in university don’t seem to expect to learn anything anymore), despite the benefits it brings.

    Similarly, I can’t think of another country where an apprentinceship scheme like Australias works so poorly (perhaps you can for me). If 50% of people can’t be bothered completing a 3 year apprenticeship that basically means that for the rest of their life they will get a decent wage and won’t be unemployed, then it is hard to imagine what the government is supposed to do, excluding look overseas for such people.

    No doubt part of the problem can be blamed on the government, but no doubt part is cultural as well.

  9. Conrad — I wonder if the problem isn’t so much a lack of willingness to train, as a snobbish privileging of only one kind of ‘training’. Perhaps the ludicrous expansion of the Uni sector is a big part of it. Far too many youngsters are pushed in the Uni direction, leaving only a rump left over to fill apprenticeships etc. There’s a strange contradictory thing going on in Australian culture, whereby ‘education’ as such is as little respected as ever, yet the kinds of jobs that you need educational credentials to get into are given all the city-yuppie kudos. A plumber is far more useful a role than is occupied by many of the office staff I’ve had to deal with in my various careers. But it’s the uni-credentialled roles that school-leavers have been trained to desire.

    Until the snobbery about university credentialling is defeated, it’s going to be hard to get youngsters to *want* to do many of the jobs that are worth doing, for the individual and society-at-large alike.

  10. Conrad: Stopping the rioting is different to arresting people for crimes. I’m sure some people could and should be arrested. I believe the current number is 1.

    Sorry Conrad I think you’ll have to look eslewhere to bolster your persecution complex:


    “Overall, 112 people have been arrested in relation to the riots, six of them for instigating the rampage of burning and looting.

    Last night, Will Jamieson, commander of RAMSI’s police arm, told reporters more arrests were imminent as police moved to smash underground groups they believed played a part in organising some of the violence.”

  11. Conrad, Jill,

    I seek clarification. It seems to me there are several ways of dealing with a particular socially relevant item such as education. Furthermore, the specific soluton may be said to belong to the culture of a particular society (evolved historically; not necessarily in total isolation from other societies).

    Reading Conrad’s comment, I gain the impression that some people seem to suggest that one solution (and hence culture) is ‘better’ than another. If this were the case, what criteria would be used to rank cultures (and hence solutions to a particular cultural issue).

    PS I am not a sociologist. My question arises from observations in my area (Economics-Finance) where some people seem to think there is only one solution to a problem when I know there are multiple solutions.

  12. Further to my post:

    In case there is some ambiguity, I am using a country as the basic unit of analysis (ie the issue I have in mind is not related to multiculturalism).

  13. I can’t cite experience outside Australia and Britain for comparison, but I think it is generally true that we are reaping the consequencs of attitudes about labour and status which go back at least to the fifties.

    When I was a child, the memes for status devolved around white collar professionalism. The “smart kids” went to high school and did the academic subjects; the dumb kids went to tech to “work with their hands”. Families aspired to get their kids a job where they could wear a collar and tie.

    I think this was reflected in the general cultural attitudes of teachers. I trained for the high school system, not the techs, (which may have been different), but I did feel that my student cohort was pretty pleased to be middle class in their nice clean brand new tertiary campus, and that schools were a narrow environment which lacked experience of the real world. On top of this, a lot of teachers came from a similar environment to me, in which families were fighting their way up into the ‘minor” professions.

    I don’t think we can ignore the impact of fear, either. As economic rationalism and deregulation took hold, I think the role of education generally got more serious. Hey kid, times are hard. Get to uni or you will end up on the scrapheap. There’s no security apart from the degree meal ticket.

    The valorising of a job in a tie was fuelled by a number of different factors. Blue collar labour was much more physically demanding. Blue collar work was much more fragile – a living depended on overtime, the lie which always undermined the eight hour day, while people could “get their cards” at the end of the week and be sacked. They relied on their union for protection.

    Contrary to our strange idea that apprenticed tradespeople looked forward to a lifetime of gouging brain workers with exorbitant costs to clear a drain, the fact is that most fitters and carpenters and cobblers and butchers and hairdressers etc were badly paid.

    We now have a history of 25 years of the wholesale slaughter of crafts and entire industries. What happened to the manufacturing sector again? How did the computer impact on trades? Where is the cabinetmaker in a world of chipboard, glue guns and staples?

    To put it more blunty – our entire damn society didn’t want their kids to be tradespeople or work in factories. Everyone knew it sucked. Not surprisingly, the government followed the aspirations of its citizens and exploded the Uni sector, even though it is leading us to an entire society of marketing executives like something from Douglas Adams.

    There is an offset of course, which tends to obscure the problem. White collar work has become as insecure and traumatising as blue. For good and ill, the free market has got us all.

    Besides the Capitalism 101 reasoning of all this, we do have an important cultural factor. We are a migrant society, which was lucky enough not to be invaded and brutalised in either world war. Since then, we have solved our labour and education shortages by simply buying the skills overseas. We never needed to develop the sophisticated feedback system that is probably required to tune education, the workforce, market trends and strategic need together.

    There is a whole other story in here about the attitude of the larger Australian corporations to retraining and in-house education; they seemed to be happy with cadetships and sandwich courses, as skills became obsolete and jobs were redefined; despite that “our real capital is our work force”, shareholders didn’t want the pressure on the bottom line, and simply hired and fired, with contracts to make sure that the disaster of paying retrenchments never happened again.

    That kind of whole life and on the job training did occur – in the large government agencies like the PMG. Remember that?

    I think there’s a couple of unhealthy, linked ideas in here. One is that we live in a wonderful country and of course people will want to migrate here. The second is that our education system is brilliant and other people will want to buy it because we are er, um… smart or something. Smart enough, for instance, to manage our education and IR systems so we don’t have skill shortages.

    On that level, we are just deluded.

  14. Ian G : Its not a persecution complex — I’d just like to something done. If NZ forces can help, thats good.

    Erstine : I’m not saying one culture is better than another (I tend to think the current problems are really quite specific to this point of time), I’m just trying to undichotomize the debate a bit. A lot of people think that current problems are all the governments fault for poor long term planning and lack of investment etc. , which is no doubt partly true, whether you come from the right (too many regulations) or left (not enough funding).

    However, presumably thanks to the current economic situation where one can get a reasonable paying job much more easily than a lot of people can remember, people seem to have become lazier and less inclined to plan the future for themselves. The drop-out rate of the apprenticeship scheme is a good example. Unlike some people, I don’t think it is because only the dull kids want to do apprenticeships (far from it), but it is more likely people in apprenticeships simply get better offers in the short term, or at least they perceive they will get a better offer.

    So I tend to believe people currently misjudge the tradeoff between 3 years of a relatively poorly paid apprenticship and a better long term future, versus a better paying job in the short term, since they believe they will be able to do just as well without the time and money cost of training (and I don’t consider that the governments fault). Either that, or I am misjudging the value of an apprenticeship based on current employment statistics that suggest they are quite valuable (i.e., perhaps jobs that require no particular skills will be abundent enough in the future to warrant not taking the apprenticeship — although I doubt it.)

    Obviously in other countries where unskilled labour is cheaper, people don’t believe this, since the discrepancy between those that have marketable skills and those that don’t is much bigger. Thats not a cultural advantage, its just the way life is.

  15. Andrew: If staff shortage can be solved by simply paying more, how do you suggest the hospital gets some nurses. They are desperately understafffed, and are not allowed to enter the auction market for staff. The hospital has an award which they must pay to.

    The current staff are working themselves to death, nobody will take a job there, will offering extra pay help?

    What about the chronic shortage of doctors and particularly dentists?
    There are loads of doctors and dentists lounging around at Bondi and Gold Coast griping about how they can’t get into a “good” (ie lucrative) practice. None will even apply for a job here.

    Those graduates have had their education paid for by the Australian public. Every second uni graduate I come accross waffless on about how education should be free, as their degree is “an asset which will benefit the whole country”.

    The people in this area have paid Australia taxes and obeyed Australia law all their lives, are they not entitled to the care benefits of being an Australia citizen?

    For the good of the nation, should the recipients of education largesse be compelled to work where they are directed?

    So far it seems that South African, Kenyan, Indian etc doctors are more Australian than Australian uni graduates.

  16. I’m what could be described as a Kyoto optimist.

    I believe that if we factor the full environmental cost of fossil fuels into the price of such fuels, private enterrise and technological progress will come up with methods to minimise the environment cost of using such fuels.

    Case in point:


    “Simpler and Cheaper Clean Coal Technology

    A Swedish utility is testing a coal-burning method that could be far more practical than much touted gasification processes.

    By Peter Fairley

    Gasification, in which coal is converted to a gaseous fuel, is the front-runner as next-generation technology for cleaner coal-fired power plants. Already, a number of utilities, including American Electric Power in the United States and RWE in Germany, are engineering large-scale gasification plants that would capture their carbon dioxide. But one major utility, Stockholm-based Vattenfall AB, is bucking the gasification trend. Last month, it finalized plans for a 40 million euro ($50 million) test of a simpler and potentially cheaper technology called oxyfuels.

    Vattenfall’s technology modifies a conventional coal plant, by burning the fuel in pure oxygen instead of air (which is mostly nitrogen). Conventional coal plants generate a flu-gas mixture of mostly nitrogen with some carbon dioxide and water; capturing the carbon dioxide is expensive because it takes a lot of energy to separate the carbon dioxide gas from the nitrogen gas. In oxyfuels technology, the flu gas is mostly carbon dioxide and water, the latter being easily condensed and removed — yielding pure carbon dioxide, which can be collected. ”

    I’va always been skeptical of geosequestration proposals because of the high cost involved.

    Of course, if you have a large supply of concentrated CO2 it mighrt make more sense to use solar energy to react it with hydrogen to produce methane for use as a fuel or as a feedstock for synthetic chemicals.

  17. Steve down the pub, your labour market is already international, get yourself some 457 visa “try before you buy” (vanstone 2005) workers. if you don’t like them the dept will deport them for you within 2 weeks.

  18. Rico: If it wasn’t for the regional 457 (as opposed to the 457) I would not have not been able to operate for the past year.

    Anytime you think you know something about the realities of the 457 visa contact me to be put straight.

    Almost anybody who comes on a temporary visa is a superior employee than any Australian I have ever hired.

    This blog does not have sufficient hard drive storage for me to give you the realities of the regional sponsored migration programme.

    If we were dependant upon Australians to get off their arse & start work, my town would have ceased to function long ago.

  19. Steve dtp: Logic would suggest that the culture producing uniformly superior employees is probably also producing superior bosses/managers. It may be time to hand over the keys to the executive washroom… but seriously I do know that the 457 visas are being used responsibly and are contributing to addressing skills shortages. However, there are also significant problems that are unresolved. The recent (end 05) changes to the regs may help here, but compliance is likely to remain an issue.

    In the end though, if we are going through a process of internationalising labour markets (and not just at the high-skills end) as appears to be the case, I think it should be a little bit more explicit than tinkering with migration policy (ending labour market testing and the requirement that workers be required for key activities in 2001 started the rapid rise in 457 approvals). This is not a migration issue it is a labour market question tied to a range of other policies that have a range of implications for the workplace and the society, not least for skills formation in the long-run. In particular, 457s are likely to make potential skilled migrants think twice about putting themselves through migration program hoops. If 457s mop up sufficient work with reduced costs to business this is likely to eventually reduce the inflow of those migrants who are most capable of contributing to ongoing skills reproduction.

    I’m a sole trader, never had employees and so can’t match your knowledge on that front. Does the situation where a sponsored worker is dependent entirely on you (as their employer) for access to Australian labour markets change the dynamic of the labour relation in your experience?

  20. Rico Helly: Umm, do you mean in that last paragraph, that under the conditions of the 457 visa the imported worker has to immediately leave the country if they leave the job (or are sacked), and does this improve their attitude?

    No idea, have never employed temporary workers before, only working holidaymakers, (who can be anything from the best to the worst, with no real way to pick them).

    Attitudes are mixed. Some nationalities/persons have great difficulty adjusting to Australian working conditions. Some are from countries where precise workmanship and industriousness is more or less unknown, and are unable to conceptualise that they are expected to do a good job.

    Some (particularly South Africans) are unable to adjust to the different social norms in Australia.

    Most 457 staff I have come into contact with are no improvement upon the average Australian, except of course an Australian was unable to be found to fill the job.

    Employers who recruit the staff directly from country of origin end up with staff far superior to the average. (As opposed to employers who allow an agency or agent to source the staff – THAT is a guarantee of mediocre staff)

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