WorkPac – the Horrors of Casual Labour Hire.

Labour Hire. The term may bring tears of joy to employers and the Federal government, however it brings tears of dismay to employees.

It’s instructive to read and listen to quotes from conservative politicians, employer groups, some journalists and a lunatic fringe,
usually from Queensland, including PHON people. With such a plethora of ‘fake news’ surrounding casual labour hire, I thought I would write of my recent experiences under the regime.

There are two major advantages to employers in using labour hire:

  1. It’s cheaper – there’s no holiday pay, sick pay, or public holidays to be paid and super is only paid on 38.5hrs per week, regardless of hours worked.
  2. The labour can be stood down with one hour’s notice – no redundancy payments, no need to redeploy.

It’s a very different story for employees:

  1. There is no job security, you can be given one hour’s notice.
  2. If you get sick, even on the job, there is no sick pay – I’ll write an example of this latter.
  3. There is no holiday pay and you’re not paid for public holidays
  4. It’s virtually impossible to get big ticket (house / car) loans, as you don’t have any job security.

Currently, it is believed almost 30% of Australians are employed as casuals and the figure is growing weekly. Here, it should be remembered that all these casual people are counted as fully employed, indeed, under the current Federal Government system, anyone working one hour a week or more, is counted as employed. Yet people continue to spruik how good the system is for the nation. One thing you can guarantee, is none of those espousing the benefits, are employed as casuals.

The casualization of the workforce has been happening since John Howard introduced Work Choices and at the same time, emasculated the unions. Gradually labour hire companies, which previously existed in a more honourable, fair system, supplying a much needed niche to industry, morphed into the voracious monster we are faced with today. The mining industry especially, has found the system extremely convenient, if I was to hazard a guess, around 35% of all mine workers are labour hire people.

People often talk disparagingly of FIFO mining workers, there’s very little sympathy for any issues these workers may bring up, as they are perceived to be earning a lot of money, which at first glance, is correct, however, all is not as it seems.

Long ago, both the mining and transport industries, by nature, offering long hour jobs, involving regular shifts, (usually 12hrs per shift), worked out it was easier to average out what a worker could expect to bring home each week, with penalty rates (overtime) included and pay the averaged out figure as the hourly / flat rate.

To explain how it works, I’ll use my own position. I usually drive a 310t gross three trailer roadtrain, too big to be driven on public roads, there is no comparable job in Perth, however if we take what’s known as a ‘Pocket Roadtrain’ (two trailers, 75t gross), seen daily on roads around capital cities, the basic going rate for the last couple of years, has been $34.00 per hour. So time and half equals $51.00 and double time equals $68.00.

A normal swing at the mine site, is two weeks, comprising seven consecutive 12hr day shifts, followed by seven consecutive 12hr night shifts, then you fly home. I should mention here that you are required to be at the airport at least an hour before your flight to work, say 5.00am, but you’re not paid until 9.00am that first day. You are not paid on the day you fly home – you’ll finish work at 6.00am, shower and change at the camp, get the bus to the airport at 7.30am for an 8.30am flight, arriving at Perth airport around 11.00am.

The swing, over 14 days, takes in two weekends, all 12hr shifts. Using the industry averaging system, if one takes $34.00 as the base rate, then adds all the penalty rates applicable, gross earnings for the period amount to $7,752.00. Divide that by 168hrs (12hr shifts over 14 days) and it works out to a gross hourly rate of $46.00ph (rounded to the nearest dollar), which, as you’d expect, is the hourly rate I was offered, accepted and worked for.

In May last year, I heard that Rio Tinto was looking for roadtrain drivers. I enquired, they were (still are), however one had to apply via WorkPac, one of the largest labour hire companies in Australia, the other being Chandler McLeod, of whom I will write later.

I was grateful to be given the job and after the prerequisite medical etc and around 12 hours of online inductions, for which I was paid, I flew up to Rio Tinto’s Brockman One site. From that moment on, WorkPac really don’t exist, except that at the end of each week, you fill out a WorkPac time sheet that Rio send off to Workpac. There is a WorkPac representative in Tom Price, but if you have a question, she won’t have the answer. You work for Rio Tinto, under Rio’s instructions and rules. Supposedly you can give an hour’s notice that you’re not coming to work, but the reality is you’d be out of a job very quickly and you get charged circa $200.00 per day for food and accommodation.

Getting sick at work is out of the question – you are not paid. Getting injured would fall under Worker’s Compensation, although if the company you work for uses ComCare, God help you! Here it gets interesting – if you feel crook – the flu or similar, unlike a fulltime worker, you don’t get paid – you’ll lose $552.00 for that shift. So contrary to sensible medical advice, casual workers swallow headache and cold and flu tablets and soldier on.

I had a very interesting experience in February this year. We were told the camp had several cases of Nova Gastro Virus (70 and growing!) and that if we felt any symptoms, we should report to our supervisors. Several days into the swing, I had (no dignity here) a dose of the trots and felt unwell. It was the change from day to nights and when I awoke in the early afternoon, I decided I was crook and rang the supervisor.

I was ordered into isolation for 48hrs, which I had no argument with, given the circumstances. Nobody came to see me, however a paramedic rang me, asked a few questions and ordered the isolation. I was well looked after with food and bottled water and a paramedic ringing to check on me daily. At the end of the second day, the paramedic decided that I should stay in isolation one more day, just to be sure.

Now that is a loss of $1,656.00 in pay, serious money, unless you’re a politician. When I reported for work the following night, I asked the supervisor what I should put on the time sheet. He said, “Are you a casual worker?” To which I replied, “Yes, but you guys ordered me into isolation and if I did have something, which we don’t know, as I never saw a doctor, then I caught it here, so I feel I should be paid.”

I put in a time sheet with the three days of 12hrs. The supervisor changed it, telling me the superintendent (these are all Rio people – at this point, WorkPac had no idea of what was going down) wouldn’t allow it, once it crossed his desk. I asked to see the superintendent, who was not exactly welcoming and promptly threw his supervisor under the bus, saying he, as Superintendent, had nothing to do with the process, he just sanctioned the annual gross payment to WorkPac, the supervisors handled individual weekly wage approvals. A very heated argument ensued. Full credit to the Superintendent, by the next morning, he had changed his mind and I was paid in full.

That’s fine for me, but another worker might not be in a positon to argue (weighed down by mortgages etc), or even able to argue – these guys are always alpha males – what then? As a casual worker, you usually loose.

There are three categories of workers, apart from contractors, at a Rio site and again, I’ll use the Haulage division as the example:

  • Full time Rio employees – usually on a 12 month renewable contract, they’re paid monthly, with bonuses, hard to work out what their actually hourly rate is. Whatever it is, it’s obviously cheaper to use casual labour hire staff.
  • Full time WorkPac employees – they are paid $44.00ph ($2.00ph less than casual WorkPac employees, but get holiday pay, sick pay etc, although they still only get super on 38.5hrs per week.
  • Casual WorkPac employees on $46.00c per hour, no benefits.

Theoretically, there is no difference in how these three groups are treated, in practice, it can be a very different story, the casual labour hire worker is second rate in terms of Rio hierarchy, as I witnessed a few weeks back.

Western Australia went into a sudden COVID-19 five day lockdown, although workers could fly back to their homes in Perth etc, workers couldn’t fly up. That meant production would grind to a halt as the outgoing crew could not be replaced.

The Superintendent addressed the crew and asked that we all stay on, saying that if anybody needed to go home, they could. We all agreed to help. Then we read a letter from somebody further up the chain in Tom Price.

Rio employees would be paid a bonus of $1,500.00 per shift for staying on, WorkPac employees would be paid their normal shift pay and contract workers would have to work it out with their employers.

What that effectively meant, is that a Rio roadtrain driver working during this period, would earn $2,052.00 per shift, while the WorkPac driver doing exactly the same job, would earn $552.00. I wrote a long email to the Superintendent saying the decision destroyed morale and that we WorkPac drivers should choose to go home, which we all agreed to. The next morning, it was announced that WorkPac drivers would also receive the bonus.

Meanwhile, back at WorkPac Head Office, they had more to worry about! They lost a court case last year, where it was ruled that people on a defined constant roster at one place, were not casuals, they are full time, even if not permanent and on that basis, WorkPac and by default, all labour hire companies, were ordered to back pay their past and present casuals workers, holiday pay, public holidays and super.

WorkPac panicked and appealed the decision with the full support of the Morrison Government, led by a crusading Christian Porter, who was very happy to be leading the charge to rape and pillage Aussie casual workers. Yes, he, Morrison and Cash etc, think casualization is a good thing and announced they were incensed that we casuals would be double dipping if we were given back pay, after all, we’re paid, so WorkPac has told the courts, a 25% loading to cover all those things! There was even a bloke from the some WA mining forum spruiking away to the Fin Review of how much we were getting paid. I asked him for a public debate, but he must have missed the message.

25%! My, oh my, oh my. It’s exciting isn’t it, so let’s have a look for that 25%.

The full time WorkPac driver next to me is getting paid $44.00 per hour (rounded up), plus holiday, sick pay and Public Holidays. Strangely, he or she is still only being paid super on 38.5hrs per week.

Me, as the casual driver, gets paid $46.00 per hour, with no holiday, sick pay, or public holidays and the same 38.5hrs super per week, although I work 84hrs. Remember the hourly rate is an averaged out rate, to take in penalties, no matter what the labour hire companies and LNP Federal Government say.

I know, like me, you’re hunting for the 25% – the difference between the full time $44.00ph and the casual $46.00ph. Yes, you’re probably a bit like the learned judges – struggling. In fact, if you add up the holiday, sick pay entitlements etc, any loading to cover that, would be somewhere between $11.00 and $15.00 approximately and would you believe that’s probably in the vicinity of what WorkPac earns from each of us per hour, in their charge rate to Rio Tinto and even then, lets say Rio pays WorkPac $60.00 per hour for each of us, it’s apparently still cheaper than employing people full time.


The case is still before the Appeal Court, however you’d have to think something may have happened / been let out of the bag, about possible results, for WorkPac, indeed most labour hire companies, have begun inserting a new clause in their contracts, stating that if in future, a court or similar decides we were / are not casuals and must be paid back pay, then they (WorkPac) reserve the right to take back from us all the loadings they’ve paid


In my case this new contract still says the flat rate is $46.00ph, but breaks it down to a never before seen, or mentioned, hourly rate of $24.00! Then gives a breakdown of everything else ($22.00) basically as loadings. Loadings should mean holiday, sick pay, public holidays, full super, it has nothing to do with the averaged out hourly rate, which is the slate of hand, smoke and mirrors trick WorkPac are trying to pull, with, may I remind you, the enthusiastic backing of the LNP government and now the One Nation mob.

Now this became so important to WorkPac, that during the second week of March, they sent us all (Australia wide as far as I can tell), a new contract that had to be signed by midnight Sunday 14th March,

And wasn’t that contract worth reading!

There is a kick – arse clause in the new contract that states, if we accept the new contract and a court later deems we are not casual drivers, (in other words we are full time) and they have to back pay us holiday pay etc, then we consent to WorkPac being able to claim back the loadings from us, potentially $22.00 for every hour you’ve worked for them, from the start of the back dated contract. You can see why it suddenly became very necessary to state that we have a very low base rate of pay ($24.00).

Yes, the new contract is back dated, in my case, five months – it’s different for each person, depending on when they started. We work a 168hr fortnight, that’s $3,696.00 per fortnight they could potentially claim back, if one agreed to the new contract. This new contract does not apply to the full time WorkPac drivers, ONLY the casuals, presumably they can’t claw anything back from full time drivers.

I tried for several days to get an answer as to what would happen if I didn’t sign. Eventually on Tuesday morning, (16th March) our Tom Price based WorkPac Pilbara representative sent me an email stating that if I didn’t sign, my employment ‘may’ be terminated, also, if I went to work on Tuesday night, it would be taken that I had accepted the new contract. I quit, followed by other guys a few hours later.

     

Another driver, wanting to stay, rang WorkPac and asked to be made full time. They refused, saying the contract was only short term. The WorkPac representative emailed three of the drivers who’d left, saying she had checked with the HR department and the clause did not apply to them. The other drivers rang me and asked what to do. I suggested they write back and say that under the circumstances, seeing as the clause didn’t apply to them, if the clause was struck out, they’d be happy to sign.

Well, that didn’t go down very well! Apparently the clause has to stay in! Of course it does!

It’s worth pointing out that the other major labour hire company has now taken a  more ethical route, albeit, it seems, in Queensland only at this point. Chandler McLeod are offering employees a fair deal, at no extra cost to the employer, which does rather tell you how much skin is in the game. One would hope that a company such as Rio, heavy on declarations of values, might approach Chandler McLeod to see if they can employ workers ethically in future.

In the meantime, the system continues to burn workers. It is wage theft and abuse of Aussie workers, whatever the industry. In my opinion, any politician who supports it does not deserve the vote of any worker. Remember pricks like Morrison, Porter, Cash, indeed any LNP member and One Nation when next you vote.
Greg Ross

THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

.Like most of us here, I like to travel and my wife Ann’s elderly mum and dad live in Germany, so travel to Europe is a regular occurrence in our household, but COVID-19 has brought everything to screaming stop. We’re all stuck where we live at the moment, for our safety and that of everyone else.

We’ve been rather lucky in Western Australia – well – credit where credit is due, the State Government acted swiftly, closing borders and containing international arrivals, whether by ship or aircraft, the consequence of which, is that after a relatively mild lock down process, we are now pretty free to move about within the state and it’s a bloody big state – half of Australia to be exact.

The State government decided they wanted to keep the mining industry going at all costs, as did the industry. As a consequence, strict processing and quarantining measures were put in place and eventually, FIFO workers from the Eastern States and New Zealand were given the option of remaining here in the West, or not coming back. A terribly tough decision for people to make. As a FIFO mine worker, along with my work colleagues , we are tested for COVID-19 every time we fly back to work. My doctor remarked, “You’re actually safer in the closed mining environment than you are wandering around the city!” That was some time ago, now it’s very safe anywhere in the West. So at a time when so many people across Australia have lost jobs and income, our household hasn’t missed a beat. In other words, it’s been pretty well life as normal, except for a while we didn’t see anybody else, but now we can and the plans are under way to celebrate. However the one thing that has not returned to normal, is overseas travel. My cousin in New Zealand, wrote on FB the other day, replying to an overseas friend of hers, that she felt COVID-19 may have brought her travelling days to an end – I shan’t give her age away, but it’s fair to say she’s long past the ‘Three Score Years and Ten.”

I started to think when I read that, in terms of travel, post COVID-19 and the more I thought about it, the more radical it seems the future of travel (of everything!) might be. This respiratory diseases is highly dangerous and highly contagious. It’s different and deadlier than Swine Flu – which I caught in the USA, back in 2009. This one is starting to show its true colours, in terms of long term debilitating effects.

A vaccine is the Holy Grail upon which we will travel again.But what of those of us who are almost 70, or over 70, know, once you’re that sort of age, travel insurance becomes very expensive. For me, over the last decade, ten years ago, it was around $35.00 per week, on my visit to Europe last Christmas, it was $50.00 per week. In fact, pre COVID-19, I became so concerned about future travel insurance costs, earlier this year, I accepted the offer of a QANTAS Platinum credit card, simply because it gives free travel insurance as long as the tickets are booked with the card (it doesn’t have to be Qantas). However it doesn’t take much to imagine that there will probably be a COVID-19 exclusion on any future travel insurance and quite probably, medical insurance to countries with an on-going COVID-19 problem, such as the USA, will be impossible to get.

Suddenly, retirees, the big spenders in terms of international travel, will not be able to get medical cover to some countries and young backpackers, in their gap years, may not want to risk future medical complications, even if they can get medical insurance.

The reality is, the travel industry across the World is now in dreadful trouble and quite how the industry, from airlines to taxis, will recover, I don’t think anybody knows. The travel dollar is massive income for almost every country in the world, some, like New Zealand, have an economy largely augmented by international tourism. And NZ is an interesting case to study – it’s basically, like Western Australia, COVID-19 free, a haven. So what do they do? Advertise “Come to Aotearoa, where you’ll be safe and see some of the World’s most magnificent scenery.”? You wouldn’t want anybody from the USA, or the UK, or most of Australia, (all major markets for the Kiwis), any where near the joint!

Back to a vaccine. There is talk of miracles and things happening. There’d have to be, unless something is developed, our world has changed forever, but no matter how many scientific teams unite around the world to develop a vaccine, it will take time. You’d have to imagine a minimum of three years, more likely five and then somebody’s going to want to make a lot of money out of it.

In the meantime, airline companies have to maintain aircraft. Sure you can store them in Arizona, or Alice Springs, but the maintenance continues, whether they fly or not and pilots have to be kept in training, all of which costs huge money.

Whether we like it or not, if we want our World travel to resume, all our nations are going to have to continue to support, that is, give money to airlines to survive. I think there will be huge contraction and massive amalgamations with airlines, there will be no choice.

Let us then imagine that some forms of international travel, to safe destinations, from safe countries, are possible next year. What will be the cost of a return ticket from say, Perth to Amsterdam? Up until now, the average economy return ticket has been around $1,500.00. Australians have long paid more for tickets than Europeans, simply because our incomes are higher, (so is our cost of living, but that’s not what airlines base their fares on). Australia is in a recession and many, many people are out of work and or have used all their savings – the ability to travel, even if it’s available next year, will be severely limited to many people. Add to that, the other whammy of travel insurance cover and it’s not hard to imagine that fares might actually be cheaper for a while, subsidised by governments in order to get people moving / visiting again.

Even then, without a vaccine, it’s obvious a traveller is going to have to pay for COVID-19 screening before flying out and before flying home, so add at least $500 or so to any international travel. Testing should obviate the need for quarantining isolation.

Of course, the money lenders in the temples (and seemingly anything owned or operated by Murdoch) want everything to open now. There was an economist on the ABC the other night, basically calling for us to let the elderly and infirm die, as they are already a financial burden.

In the finish with some, we humans are purely a number in terms of cost related value, like a car, get rid of the bastard once it starts to cost money. These forces are large and powerful, they may well win and a tired, caged society, desperate for freedom to visit family and friends overseas may even applaud such moves, sooner rather than a cautious later.

Let us hope that COVID-19 testing is the initial path to some restoration of international travel, along with government subsidies and agreements, in terms of travel insurance – here, the USA with the democratic world’s worst medical health system (financial – their medical knowledge is second to none) will probably be off limits for several years, but then they may well be in a civil war and you wouldn’t want to go there!

With luck, maybe we will have a proven vaccine within the next couple of years, until then, hopefully Leonard Cohen wasn’t quite as prescient back in 1992 as some of us are inclined to think – to quote from THE FUTURE:

Things are going to slid, slide in all directions

Won’t be nothing

Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world

Has crossed the threshold

And it has overturned

The order of the soul

… I’ve seen the future, brother.

It is murder

A THEATRE FOR DREAMERS – A Review

To my astonishment and dismay, I initially found this book disconcerting, I couldn’t reconcile the fictional autobiography within the novel context and found myself slightly annoyed, putting it down after just a couple of chapters.

I agonised about it overnight, then picked it up again this morning, as everything had rung true and I’d liked how the author had cleverly used a line or two from Cohen’s songs. Within pages, I couldn’t put it down. In a way, a bit like a Dylan concert – initial confusion gave way to increasingly stunned appreciation. Samson’s writing not only gets under the skin of her characters, it also gets under the reader’s skin.

The book is surreal – you know, or gradually understand the main character is a work of fiction, but many of the other characters are real, the majority of incidents all happened and have been covered in previous biographies, to which the author, Polly Samson, gives enthusiastic  credit, reserving deserved special praise for Sylvia Symond’s I’M YOUR MAN. It’s interesting to note she thanks the estates of the major players, even Cohen’s lawyer, Robert Kory, which does rather tell you how factual this superb work of fiction is. And for inner sanctum Cohenites, Jarkko Arjatsalo and Allan Showalter are also thanked.

As I closed the book, a profound sadness and sense of loss came over me, which, over several hours, diluted to a bitter sweet melancholy. I found myself reflecting on my own life mistakes and desperately wanting to return to Hydra.


The book, I am assuming intentionally, reminds us that our heroes are human and though they may possess incredible talent, they are just as fallible and at times lost, as we all are. Somehow Samson deftly manages to respect and honour Clift, Johnson, Cohen and Ihlen, while at the same time, painting a breathtakingly realistic picture of their turbulent times on Hydra.

It is probably a book that could not have been written whilst they were still with us, but alas, they are all gone, bequeathing us the genius of their work and now, through the wonderful writing of Polly Samson, a glimpse of a period and place that fuelled their dreams of poetry, prose, music and love.

This book is profound.

Greg Ross

Harry and Meghan – a non – Monarchist’s Perspective.

Now I’m not a Monarchist – ever since the Queen refused to invite us in for afternoon tea at Windsor when my wife Ann and I called in. That being said, I do like and respect the Queen for how she’s carried out her duties – sure there was the hideous misstep when Diana died, which rather gave the game away in terms of self-belief of position etc, but overall, she plays the role well. I only hope, which of course she won’t, she’s written a tell-all memoir, it would, I think, be a devastating killer diplomatically.

Back to Diana’s death. It’s always been rather obvious you don’t fuck with City Hall, Diana did and indirectly, it killed her. The Monarchy is a very British Royal / Aristocracy club – you may be invited to come for dinner, or a quick root, but you will NEVER be given full membership.

I think the reason Charles was ‘directed to’ Diana, is the Family knew full well, inbreeding was rearing its fatal head.

Now it’s not all the Family’s fault – the pressure from media, government and society is incredible and the old safeguards protecting the royal family from prying media have long gone. The media lies, doctors and photoshops everything possible about the royal family, in what is a multi billion dollar industry – witness Charles telling Camilla in what he assumed was a private encrypted conversation, that he wanted to be her tampon back in the 1990s. Only a few years before that, any reporter and editor would have expected banishment forever, a hundred years ago, beheading. The mystic is gone – it was still there with Princess Margaret during her wild philandering days, it was still there with the G&T Queen Mother, but our world changed. An example of the change is to think of President Kennedy – ‘everyone’ knew he was screwing the pants off any good looking woman he came across (if you’ll excuse the pun), but nothing was said publicly. Thirty years later, they were impeaching a President for a blow job under the desk.

Birthright? Perhaps Dylan has the best description – A Simple Twist of Fate. Who we are, where we are born – country, silver spoon, poverty, skin colour, we have no say, no choice. We arrive in a sterile hospital room, or a blanket in a tent under a desert tree, helpless in every way. Your circumstance is something you accept as a child, whether it’s poverty, wealth, a royal family, religious discrimination (male or female), or abuse by a Catholic priest. For most of us, it’s not until we reach our teens, that we seriously question taught belief systems and express genuine doubts about our circumstances, indeed for most of us, those formative years are just that – they form the prison of our beliefs and comfort systems for years. Even violence can sadly become comfortable as an insane form of stability.

So we have two young boys who’ve lost their mum twice – once as she’s shunned by the Palace and finally when she dies in the sordid Paris car crash. It was a train wreck and still is. For those of us old enough to remember the footage, whatever your thoughts on the monarchy, the sight of those two boys walking behind their mum’s carriage was and still is, gut wrenching.

Anyone who has been part of a blended family, in whatever role, knows how fraught with difficulty it all is, the path is exhausting for everyone. How much more difficult would that be for two teenagers in the British Royal Family spotlight?

One of those boys, William, at least had some sort of a future career path mapped out – he would / will be King one day, but Harry would have realised he was forever destined to open flower shows and do nothing without Palace approval.

People are pointing out the differences between Harry and William as if to say Harry got it all wrong. What arrogant, unfeeling nonsense. Most of us have brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandkids, they’re all different, all marching to a different drum and we learn to love and appreciate them for who they are.

William always struck me as being as boring as bat shit, but a thoroughly decent bloke, who’s perfect for the role of future King and his wife appears to have been the perfect choice. They’ve produced the prerequisite heirs, now they just have to keep opening hospitals and flower shows, until Charles either steps off the perch, or the British public make it obvious,they won’t accept Charles as replacement for Elizabeth – if I put my PR hat on, my advice to The Family, if they want to remain relevant, would be for Charles to gracefully stand aside when the Queen passes on and allow William to become King.

Charles of course, has a sister and brothers, of whom we hear (from a commonwealth country perspective), very little, they are seemingly stuck in some groundhog routine of opening fetes and attending charity functions, all very laudable, but I think it would drive most of us mad. Worse. You’re born into it, you do your best to play the role / your assigned part and daily, the press and social media rip you apart as a leech on the public purse, if you so much as fart, it will be headlines, if not two monthly editions of some supermarket magazine,

Let us then consider ourselves in relation to our parents – are we the same people? Do we have the same belief systems – politically, religiously? What if Harry has done his best, but reached the conclusion that it’s nonsense and he doesn’t believe in a monarchy? Of course, he would still love his grandma and his family, but could he go on living a lie? Could you or I?

What if it was his uncle Andrew who finally ‘broke the camel’s back’/ What if he thought, “Christ, one more tawdry dickhead I’m supposed to smile in photos with. I just want to be with my wife and baby and earn an honest quid. I just have to get out of this.”

Something happened before Christmas, which brought this all to a head. I still think it would have happened, but not in such an obvious rush and I come back to Andrew’s fall from grace. The fallout also seems to have been with his father – tellingly, there are no words of affection or love for his father, plenty for the Queen and the family, England and his genuinely beloved military. Harry’s Invictus Games is a stand out of decency and compassion, something all governments lack when it comes to injured defence force personnel.

And don’t we love to hate a strong woman! Diana we loved, with her doe eyes, caught in the spotlight look, all while she was playing her own game of survival. Meghan has the temerity to be different – I mean, she’s a woman of colour and an actress! Can anyone imagine what it would have been like for her in the Palace, where every word, look, or dress has to be approved by the very people who in all probability didn’t approve of her? It doesn’t take much to imagine advisers telling the Queen and Charles that it didn’t really matter if Harry married a black American divorcee, as he’d never be King. What the hell has Meghan Markle ever done to deserve the snide odium?

Harry’s decided to get out. He doesn’t want to live off the public purse, his escape will take a little time, but he’s determined. I think that’s admirable. I like them both, I think they are the future, and an excellent example of a hard working couple to younger generations.

Greg Ross

REFLECTING ON A NATION ON FIRE – LITERALLY AND POLITICALLY

A poignant on point cartoon from a Dutch Newspaper

I discovered Twitter in late 2012, as I prepared a quixotic attempt for election as an Independent in the WA State elections. Unexpectedly, Twitter has become my major source of 30sec grab news, replacing two daily newspapers and regular viewings of ABC news and current affairs. It has also replaced Letters to the Editor, as my preferred method of stating my opinion.

I guess I could be counted as a fierce keyboard warrior, as although I prefer civil debate, street fights with trolls and far left and right wild-eyed fanatics is really quite pleasurable. I like to kill them with politeness and fact, but if they get nasty, I’m on, although sometimes, when they’re too far gone, too rabid for reason, you do have to block. Something that’s easier to do online, than deal with the nut jobs (often self – professed Christians from Queensland), who, having spotted your letter in the newspaper, obviously look up the electoral role and send you 30 pages of photo copied conspiracy articles, all of which seem to end up with Satan, God and me locked in a battle I hadn’t previously been aware of. Yes Narelle, the nutters were always there.

Anyhow, you’d have to be isolated in solitary confinement not to know Australia is on fire and political debate and division is white hot, with deep division as to whether climate change has anything to do with the devastation facing the country and opinion on the associated performance of the current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

A left of centre, occasional swinging voter and card carrying Chardonnay Socialist, I have no qualms in admitting that while Bill Shorten didn’t exactly float my boat, the thought of more LNP government was anathema and Morrison seemed too daggy to take seriously. Like most of Australia, expect perhaps the inner sanctum of the Federal Labor Party, I was stunned by Morrison’s victory – I hadn’t realised the nation really didn’t like Shorten. Although of course, I should have, the polls had been telling us that for several years.

Enter Morrison as Prime Minister and my shrug of the shoulders acceptance slowly turned to utter disdain, I’d never quite come across anybody so smug, self – centred and incapable, in short, he began to make my skin crawl every time I saw him, still does, even more so after the last two to three weeks.

I haven’t exactly hidden my feelings on Twitter, as an aside, there’s a delicious irony in the fact that newspapers probably wouldn’t print most of my Tweets (especially these days when newspapers across the country, in the mad scramble for advertising income, are staunchly right wing), however, commenting on various newspaper Facebook and Twitter sites, many of which have paywalls, one quickly becomes a Top Fan, all of which is, once again, tied up with the mad scramble for advertising dollars.

Then this morning (5th January), as I was looking at a photo of Morrison with the NSW Premier and her Fire Chief and struck by the screaming body language of all in the photo  (anybody who thinks the two of them like / approve of, or wanted to be anywhere near Morrison, has rocks in their head, or writes for the Murdoch media), I realised Morrison had reached the point of being shamed into doing what the nation had been demanding. In other words, he’s now organised what he should have done several weeks, if not months back.

On that basis, I’ve concluded it’s time to call a halt to the attacks and let the rescue, in all its forms, continue. Those of us who can, must contribute with cash donations and offers of accommodation. My wife Ann and I plan to do just that on our return from Europe in the second week of January.

The issue then, is can we trust the Australian media not to let Morrison and his woefully inadequate mob get away with what has been sustained, deliberate belligerent and at times atrocious behaviour? It’s blindingly obvious that Morrison will (and is), desperately try to re-image himself as caring and a long time climate change believer, a lie, but he’s proven he’s comfortable with falsehood.

He has time on his side and he knows it, at the same time, Labor is still lost in the wilderness, with, to quote Bob Dylan, ‘no direction home.’ The Greens don’t count any more, their vicious machinations against Kevin Rudd have now deservedly come to bite them, along with their insane stand against fuel reduction burnings.

Having said that, we really have no idea what the long term implications of this almost incomprehensible disaster will be in terms of how Australians, in particular, those hundreds of thousands directly, or indirectly affected, will act with their voices and votes. If anybody doubts that, look how quiet the majority of politicians of all persuasions have become. The LNP will be banking on time being a healer, however the financial implications for every person, or business caught up in the maelstrom of the horror, are almost beyond belief.

I’ve been impressed and pleasantly surprised at how Ch 9 and Ch 10 have begun to ask hard questions of Morrison and his ministry – those that aren’t still hiding on Bali, a boat, or a white board somewhere. ABC journos, for the most part, still seem sadly and shockingly determined not to embarrass the government, although, to my delight, Ita has just come out swinging. The Murdoch media and the east coast shock jocks won’t change from their fierce neutral stance on Morrison and their equally fierce daily attack on anything Labor or Green. The inexcusable and by now ridiculous war Murdoch is waging on the ABC may come to bite them, given the role the ABC has and continues to play for people across the nation.  If the mood and the zeitgeist of the nation changes, Murdoch and the Jocks will come down on Morrison like avenging angels, screaming out the banal “We’re For You” already in daily use on tabloids across the country.

So what approach should somebody like me take, given that I think it’s vital to give our civil and defence services clear air? I think it wise, for the time being, to stop commenting on things, with the proviso that if Morrison and co drag things up, or a knuckle dragging fuckwit such as Sam Newman fires up, then the gloves must come off. The same goes for the ludicrous silver spooned Georgina Downer and there’s something called Chris Smith, not to mention the insidious IPA – can somebody explain why the hell they’re a charity? If any of these sorts arc up, then of course they must be countered. On the other hand, if any of them actually roll up their sleeves and help, they should be given accolades.

Which rather segues back to Morrison. His PR team must be made up of failed media studies students and sad drunks still sobbing over the loss of linotype machines, so bad is everything they orchestrate. However, I don’t think they will be able to help themselves, especially considering their boss appears to have zero understanding of brand and market perception. I think, sadly, we can expect more of the same, in which case, the Morrisons and Reynolds etc, are once again fair game. I haven’t included Abetz and Latham  – 24hr nursing care is the answer there.  Whether the Australian public is as stupid as Morrison’s mob thinks, is very much a question in waiting. But at this point, as I wrote at the start of this opinion piece, the federal government appears to doing what the Australian people demanded and desperately needed, so I’ll keep the muzzle loaded, but the safety catch on.

Which leads us to the aftermath of this nightmare – the fires, not the LNP Government! – when hope has returned and we,  the tax payers, have rightly helped fund recovery for everyone directly involved, including all fire fighters, from the beginning of this nightmare. “Funding?” You say. Now there’s the Elephant in the Room.

I believe the government is going to have to introduce a levy / tax on all of us, including the multi nationals etc who pay no tax. The reality is, it doesn’t matter which side of politics you bat for, no government can dive into the Treasury and come up with the sort of money needed to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.

In summary, repair, recovery and help, both financial and emotional, are the only things that matter now. However at some time in the future, we need, as a nation, to round in all these bastards who’ve played ideological games in the face of peer – reviewed science and desperate, pleading experts, all of whom have been proven so shockingly correct.  Hopefully we will, at that point, have a strong, alternative government, ready to lead, in healing our wounded land, flora, fauna and people.

Greg Ross

Perla Batalla – In The House of Cohen

The King is dead, long live the King – the passing of a monarch and his or her replacement is signed, sealed and delivered before the State funeral even takes place, but in music, tradition, blood lines, even talent, play no part in replacement. Indeed, one could argue very successfully, that you cannot replace Beethoven, Mozart, Pavarotti, Ginger Baker, Wes Montgomery, Sinatra, Bowie and so on. The list is growing and sadly, in the next decade or so, we will lose a plethora of brilliant 20th century musos, people such as Neil Diamond, Elton John, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, although I half suspect Keith Richards will still be stabbing out riffs when my now teenage grandkids are my age!

For many of us across the world, these artists are the background to our life stories, we grew up with them, their music frames decades of now poignant memories. We’re all saddened when we read of the death of a favourite singer / muso, although often the news is softened by the fact that age has wearied them, they’ve either only done the occasional appearance performing old favourites in recent years, or haven’t performed for years and have dropped from public view.

But every now and then, the mould an artist produces new music right up till the Seventh Seal scenario, then the loss is palpable, even shocking, despite great age, which segues into Leonard Cohen.

Breaking almost every mould, he kept producing new material until the day he died, literally. What’s even more fascinating, is his voice got better with age, his new works were as lyrically profound as when he tentatively first put quavering reedy voice to vinyl. To put that in perspective, the only comparable talent,  his equal, (lyrically and musically), Bob Dylan, lost any semblance of a voice a decade or so ago and has resorted to interpreting old standards, sadly producing little if anything new in the last decade or so, that could be considered anywhere near the standard of his magnificent earlier decades of work.

Musically, Cohen collaborated with several people over the last twenty plus years – people such as Sharon Robinson and Patrick Leonard and by the time of his last two records – YOU WANT IT DARKER and the posthumous THANKS FOR THE DANCE, his song writing had become the reverse of the Elton John / Bernie Taupin relationship – Leonard supplied the lyrics and others supplied the melody.

For the millions of Cohen fans around the world, since his death in November 2016, the loss has been painful and whilst there are some very credible artists around the world doing Cohen covers – Nick Cave (Australia), Imperfect Offering (New Zealand), Rufus Wainwright and k.d.lang (Canada), Madeleine Peyroux (USA), Janerik Lundqvist (Sweden), Gerard Kettel, (Germany / Europe) and of course, Leonard’s son Adam – they aren’t Leonard. But for all that, we want the music to live and new generations to listen to and appreciate his work. So who best to keep the flame?

For male singers, the task is almost a no win situation. The natural vocal range for adult males is that of the baritone, as was Cohen, but trying to sound like him comes across as a cover act – often great to watch and listen to, but ultimately you’re not getting the real person – either the cover artist or Leonard.

Then we turn to female artists, which to some, may seem ludicrous. On the contrary. Cohen’s voice always benefited from and needed women’s voices, to add not just harmony, but that haunting beauty so often heard in his work. The women who have sung with him are justifiable legends in their own right – Jennifer Warne, Sharon Robinson, Perla Batalla and Julie Christenson, Michelle Phillips from the Mommas and Poppas, plus of course the beatific Webb Sisters.

Jennifer Warne and Sharon Robinson would appear the obvious choices, they each have incredibly beautiful voices and often ‘own’ the songs – Sharon certainly does – she wrote more than a few of them! Sharon is stunning on stage, her phrasing and understanding of the lyrics is profound. The Webb Sisters also have beautiful voices, but their English folk sound seems more suited to back – up than lead – that may change, as their voices mature with age and they continue to experiment with different genres. Then there’s Julie Christenson and Perla Batalla, Cohen’s back – up singers from the late 1980s through to the md 1990s. We last saw them sing together in the glorious 2005 Lian Lunson tribute film, I’M YOUR MAN. Nobody who saw that film could forget their emotion charged version of ANTHEM. Christenson’s musical path has moved away from Cohen and there seems little likelihood that she would once again immerse herself in Cohen’s work, Batalla however, has continued to actively interpret, sing, record and perform Cohen’s work, pausing during the immediate period after he passed away. Understandable, as they were close – Cohen was Godfather to her daughter. It’s Batalla’s voice that has often stopped me in my tracks, with her versions of Cohen’s songs.

Perhaps it’s her Mexican, Spanish influenced ancestry that gives her a wildness, a sensuality, a roughness and intensity, I don’t know, whatever it is, her version of BIRD ON THE WIRE has long been a killer and I had long wanted to see her live.

The opportunity came late this year, Perla had scheduled a series of her IN THE HOUSE OF COHEN concerts across Western Europe for late November / early December and we were scheduled be in Europe in early December (for Christmas and New Year). With the help of treasured close friends (Gery and Aad in Holland), we secured tickets for her concert in Antwerp on Friday 6th December.

De Roma, in Antwerp, was in many ways, the perfect setting for Perla’s concert – saved from destruction and restored by volunteers, there were parallels with Perla’s mission of support for Cohen’s work – the old world charm and art deco interior was an astoundingly good match for both Cohen’s majestic works and Batalla’s intoxicating Hispanic delivery.

She was backed by a three piece band – Marc Prat (bass), Lluis Cartes Ivern (keyboard, accordion and percussion) and Dimitris Jimmy Mahlis (oud), the setting was Cohenesque in its simplicity – background curtains and subtle lighting effects, plus dried ice smoke – curling above her shoulder like a highway perhaps?

The band was superb, dangerous territory after the stunning  perfection of Leonard Cohen’s band during his last years of touring and this was an audience of Cohen fanatics – an inferior, too loud a sound, or one mistake with one word in a lyric and social media would light up for weeks! But the band, Perla and her voice were stars.

Her voice is sumptuous, decadent, sexy, deep, haunting, soulful, tender and powerful, to pinch a line from Leonard Cohen, it’s almost like the blues. A sort of combination of Jennifer Warne and Janis Joplin, bloody magnificent, tinged with the Latin elements of fiery emotional intensity.

There were two sets of about 45 minutes each, with a decent half hour interval. I sensed this is a work in progress, it strikes me that Batalla has realised what she’s got and is no doubt refining and adding show by show. She performed a Mexican song of lament about Mexican men in the US missing their wives and families, it was very emotional for her, the band and the audience. She was crying and so were we. I immediately thought of DEPORTEE, she would break hearts singing that powerful song.

Perla has been recognised by the United Nations for her work on Social and Economic justice and her Mexican / Argentinian heritage and consequent musical influences, are very strong. Cohen, apart from the obvious pervading influence of Klezmer music, was himself heavily influenced by Spanish music and almost without fail, Cohen fans are classic social justice chardonnay socialists. I am certain Perla could add more Spanish / Mexican / Argentinian music and influences to this spectacular HOUSE OF COHEN.

She also intersperses the song list, with anecdotes about Cohen. Here, I thought she was being overly cautious – most of the anecdotes are in the public domain and well known to Cohen aficionados, consequently they didn’t come across as particularly personal, more a followed script. I suspect she’s being mindful and respectful of Cohen’s privacy, but I would suggest, with the publishing of books such as MATTERS OF VITAL INTEREST by Cohen’s life – long friend Eric Lerner, there is room for Perla to throw in more of her own experiences, without in any way disrespecting Cohen, or his memory. As an example, the time in 1988, when she, Julie Christenson and Cohen went with the film crew to Cohen’s house on Hydra, there would have been some interesting observations and when they came across Axel Jensen at the harbour, I’m sure Leonard would have said something later, over a wine or two. And there’s a thought – a bottle of Leonard’s favourite wine on stage, Perla could share a glass with the band and talk about it. As always, the little anecdotes intrigue and add validity.

Perla, my wife Ann and me

Back to the concert, Perla did all the Cohen songs the audience expected, superbly, then she tackled YOU WANT IT DARKER. Now I’m just a very amateur tinkerer on the piano, I have the sheet music to that song, it’s very difficult to interpret it in anything other than a monotone. This band and Perla, took the song and turned into a driving, almost Creole blues. It was exciting, it was brilliant. I’d been sitting there thinking, “Perla, you are bloody great!” Then they threw this into the mix and I knew. Perla Batalla is the Keeper of The Cohen Flame.

Buy her music and if by chance, she and her sublime band pass your way, go, just go to the concert, don’t miss it.

https://www.perla.com/

Greg Ross © 2019

Greta, DB and Journos

Greta travelling on DB’s ICE

I feel the need for a little rant. I don’t understand why people get so uptight about 16yr old Greta Thunburg – you often hear people saying “Kids these days are lazy, not interested, buried in the phones etc, etc”. This kid’s got into it. What’s wrong with that?

My suspicion is that if she was stunningly beautiful to look at, all those angry middle aged men would have quite different opinions and be far more indulgent. Uncomfortable thought isn’t it? Good.

Now, it’s the latest ‘news’ surrounding her train travel  through Germany that has me fired up, because main stream media, including the bloody ABC – I mean of course Sky News is going to savage her without investigating, but the ABC? – have attacked her without reason.

As most will know, she posted a photo of herself sitting on the floor of a train with all her luggage. I liked the shot, she was looking thoughtful at the end of her year long journey. She said nothing about DB (the train company), however the media across the world and DB read the picture as a reprimand about not being looked after properly and did they all go for her!

DB responded by tweeting that she travelled First Class with them and they were sorry she hadn’t seen fit to make that public – more grist for the MM mill!

She did in fact travel First Class, LATER in her journey, after somebody in DB recognised her, but at the point where the photo was taken, she, along with a lot of other people, had been put onto a different train, due to DB cancelling the train she was booked on and consequently, she had no seat as the train was completely overcrowded! More on that in a minute.

She would have been perfectly within her rights, to have tweeted the DB fuck up – I would have – but she didn’t, that wasn’t the purpose of her tweet.

Now, it’s patently obvious most journos in Oz, NZ, the USA and the UK are unfamiliar with the German rail system,  if they were, the story would hopefully – well, perhaps not with Sky News – have been quite different, but what is shocking, is all the lazy vicious pricks calling themselves journalists, did no fact checking or research. Indeed, the irony is, they have carried on in exactly the same way journos accuse people on social media of behaving. In the vernacular of SM, these journos are trolls.

As anyone who regularly travels on German trains can tell you, cancellations, train replacements, late arrivals and sudden platform changes are a daily occurrence.  Inevitably, when your train is cancelled, passengers are put on to another train and guess what? Yep, you loose your booked seats. Worse, more often than not, the replacement train (if there is one!), is smaller (less carriages) than the one you were booked on, so there is little hope of finding a seat. People end up sitting on their luggage in the doorways – JUST LIKE GRETA!

German rail travel is brilliant, but it is often chaotic and I have noticed that German rail officials (conductors etc) are usually paralysed in such situations – they keep walking and ignore the chaos around them. I suspect it’s because Germans are so used to ‘order’ that they simply have no training / instinct to deal with failure. I should point out I’m not saying that as criticism, purely on observation of culture.

And as if to reinforce what I’m writing, two hours ago, (Monday 16th December), here in northern Germany, I took my wife and mother in law to the station (they’re off on a four day holiday). When we got there, a detailed announcement was made, telling everyone waiting to catch the Bielefeld train that they needed to be on the next platform (150m away). Everyone (commuters and travellers) dutifully trudged along to that platform.

Then a train arrived, marked Beilefeld, at the platform where everyone had been waiting! No further announcements.   Passengers talked amongst themselves, then everyone decided to rush back. Sure enough, that was their train. The driver popped his head out the window and asked a passenger what was going on! Welcome to daily train travel in Germany. Indeed, as I was editing this tale, my wife rang to say the train out of Bielefeld had been delayed, they’d been put another train that was slower and they would therefore miss the next connection.

There are lessons here for main stream media, although most are too arrogant to accept it, but perhaps you’ll begin to understand why we don’t trust you anymore.  

Greg Ross

Cohen’s Last Dance

When Leonard Cohen passed away three years ago, I felt a bitter sweet sense of relief. My wife Ann and I briefly met him the morning after his last concert in Perth (November 2013) and were shocked at his physical condition. The ultra-cool ageing rock god from the previous night had morphed into a small, frail, unfailingly courteous, but exhausted old guy. There was a telling exchange of eye contact between his personal assistant (Kezban Ozcan) and me. I wanted desperately to entreat him to stop and go home, but I didn’t and she eventually said “We have to go, the bus is waiting.” He smiled wanly and was gone.

Then in 2016, the wonderful Leonard Cohen Forum biennial meet-up was held in gorgeous Amsterdam and attendees were treated to something very special – Leonard had given permission for us to hear his new album YOU WANT IT DARKER before its release and producer / singer / song writer Patrick Leonard was there to take our questions.

The album was a startling revelation, an obvious good bye, with one song a salute to his lovers, his family and friends and his legion of long term fans – YOU GOT ME SINGING. I think all of us in the audience were stunned at the bleak beauty of the album and its clear message of farewell. At that point, most of us were not aware of just how close to death Leonard was, or the toll his battle with leukaemia had taken on him, he was indeed ready to leave the game.

Three months later, we awoke to hear that Leonard had moved on some two days earlier and following his strong Jewish faith, had been buried the day before in his beloved home city of Montreal. There was a hole in our world, but we had the music and the memories. Patrick Leonard had hinted at other works in the pipeline – orchestral variations and poetry readings, but with Leonard gone, there seemed little chance of anything seeing the light of day. In a way, the feeling for me these last three years, has been that it was final, but strangely unfinished.

Then some months back, came news of a new album that his son Adam was producing. I must admit I winced a little at the prospect, ungraciously worried that it might be a piece meal mish mash of discarded material put out for profit rather than posterity.

How wrong I was. Adam has done his father proud. THANKS FOR THE DANCE is simply beautiful. Stunning perhaps best describes it. Others will write of that messianic baritone filled with age and a wavering timbre of finality, but for me, this is the perfect finish. The tome I first opened in early 1968, as a 17yr old boy and have studied ever since, has now been read to the very end. The feeling is rather like that beautiful ending in the last of Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy, where they set sail forever.

To Adam, Javier, Jennifer and all involved, you have done the master proud, thank you all for this final dance.

Greg Ross

All Photos, apart from the album cover, by Greg Ross (c)

Ron Howard’s PAVOROTTI

We have much to thank the Italian town of Modena for – Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, the world’s best Balsamic Vinegar and Pavorotti, quite apart from a wonderful medieval history!

Mea culpa – I love opera, well, Wagner excepted, I’ve been fortunate enough to see Pavarotti, even meet him briefly, in fact if I allow the shameless name dropping to continue, I’ve met two other people featured in this documentary – Placido Domingo and Guiseppi Di Stefano, but enough of desperate attempts at self-promotion.

I didn’t know what to expect of this film, but I love Pavorotii’s voice and Ron Howard as a director, indeed Ron Howard introduces the film, welcoming Australian audiences in a short video clip at the start of the film. It is a documentary rather than a movie, deliberately staged in an operatic style, using concert footage over the years and it works, I found it utterly riveting, poignant, funny and moving. Perhaps more importantly, so did my wife Ann, who is not an opera person.

Fear not, this is no glossy tightly controlled attempt to create the new Messiah, it’s beguilingly honest featuring sometimes searing interviews with his family, faults are not glossed over. What comes through, is a driven, very human, funny, warm bloke with a voice gifted by the Gods.

I really liked this bloke, I would have loved to have dined and wined with him long into the night. I don’t want to spoil the film by going through various scenes, all I can say, is if you love music and theatre go, just go. In fact, I would take kids, who may have absolutely zero interest in opera – U2 will keep them happy. I defy anyone to sit watching and listening to Pavorotti, Domingo and Carreras sing (and interact) Nessun Dorma without tears rolling down their cheeks.

Pavorotti is to be released in cinemas on October 24th and I’d have to give a plug for the lovely art deco Windsor Theatre in Nedlands, part of the Luna Cinemas Group and the wonderful all singing all dancing Theatre Manager – his short, but in tune rendition of O Solo Mio as he flung open the doors was in the very best of theatre tradition, all that was missing was the Wurlitzer rising from the stage.

Many thanks to The Saturday Paper for the tickets – support for independent newspapers (and cinemas), has never been more important.

Greg Ross October 2019

Labour Hire Nightmare!

The System is Bullshit!

I woke up the other night, covered in sweat and screaming from a dreadful dystopian nightmare about FIFO work in a ‘Sliding Doors’ alternate world. It’s taken me a day or two to realise it’s not real and couldn’t possibly happen, in fact, it’s actually so off the planet and stupid, I thought I’d share it with everyone.

It all seemed familiar – lying on my bed in the donga, looking at jobs on Seek, when a half way interesting job popped up. ‘MC Driver FIFO 2/1, excellent pay and conditions, apply now,’ I did.

Next thing I know, I’m outside the offices of Concheater Labour Hire. It really was very impressive, pot plants and uniformed officious office girls everywhere. An imperious young woman sneered at me and said “How can I help you?”

I mumbled that I had an appointment to see a Wattic Hunt. “Take this file, sit over there and fill them out”.  It was quite strange, there was a quarter of a page dedicated to previous experience and four pages dedicated to any previous “This Prick Got Injured at Work” claims. (You can already see how removed from reality this is – prospective employers in the real world are not allowed to ask about prior claims).

Writing NA across those four pages, I signed the paperwork with a flourish and took it to the counter. A very busy receptionist interrupted her phone call and in a complete change of tone (she’d been talking up the benefits of Concheater to somebody) frowned at me and said petulantly, “Sit down over there (pointing with a ballpoint to a seat opposite), Mr Hunt will be with you shortly!”

I felt I should have apologised for being there, but didn’t want to take up any more of her precious time, so I meekly sat and waited as instructed.

“Greg? Good to see you, c’mon in, I’m Wattic Hunt.” I was fascinated, I was sure I’d met his twin brother at a used car yard in Victoria Park. We sat down in a boardroom – phones and laptops in the middle of the oval table, very plush chairs and water and glasses. Wattic was smiling at me. “Let’s have a look at your file” and so saying, he scanned through the pages. Then looking up at me, in a very serious tone, he said, “Our client is a major transport supplier to the mining industry, the position is only for the most experienced operators, so, what have you driven? Three trailers, four, or just two?”

I couldn’t resist, though I knew I should, “I must admit I’ve never driven trailers, only prime movers.” Wattic looked incredulous, then fixed me with a stare.

“We take our work very seriously, Concheater has a name as the number one supplier of experienced labour to the mining industry. We only hire the best and most professional people!”

“I’m with you,” I replied, “That’s why I corrected the mistake. Five.”

Wattic put his pen down and looked at me, completely puzzled, “Five?”

“Five trailers,” I replied, “One of them a power trailer.”

“We don’t have five trailers listed,” he said suspiciously, “And our client is a major provider of transport solutions to the mining industry!” I could see that not only was my humour not going down well with Wattic, but also his knowledge of the industry was wanting. “Were you a road train driver before?” I asked.

“No, my expertise is in the vital areas of Health and Safety and Human Resources,” Wattic somewhat disdainfully replied. I should have left then, but for some mad reason, I seemed glued to my seat. “So you’ve driven Kenworths and Roadranger boxes I see? And you’ve done FIFO work before, from your records?”

“Yes.”

“When could you start? Our client has vacancies available immediately.”

“Well, I could start next week, if that was required, can I ask who the job is with?” Wattic looked across at me, then, with a tone inviting applause, he said, “The position is with Rollover Logistics at Wattafuckup mine site, you’ll be carting unprocessed bulldust on a haul road to the railhead, Concheater are the preferred supplier, should you prove suitable, at some point, you will be offered full time employment!”

“Sounds good,” I replied, “What’s the hourly rate?”

“$39.00, it’s 12hr shifts, 2/1, we pay weekly, you get your timesheet signed by the Rollover Logistics supervisor and faxed through to our office.”

“Hang on,” I said, “Drivers for Rollover are paid $40.00per hour and they get holiday and sick pay, I assume you’re not paying that?”

“Certainly not!” he indignantly said, “You’ll be casual labour hire on one hour’s notice, this is your chance to join a reputable company!”

“So you can fire me with one hour’s notice?” I said

“Of course!” replied Wattic, “This is the modern era of supply and demand and the other big advantage for you, is that you only need to give us an hour’s notice. You’ve got nothing to fear and everything to gain, you’re at the vanguard of the future for the mining industry, free to work where and when you want, soon everyone will be working under this system!”

“Are you on this system?” I asked.

“Of course not!” replied Wattic, “I’m management, you’re labour, this is labour hire remember, the system is both cost and staffing efficient, everyone loves it.”

A thought occurred to me, “What happens when the site is rained out? Do I get paid?”

Wattic smiled wearily at me, “I don’t think you understand Greg, we’re talking about efficiency and the use of resources, if it rains, you don’t work, therefore you don’t get paid, what could be fairer than that? If the rain sets in for two or three days, we stand you down.”

I looked at him, “Wattic, on a mine site, you have to report for work, blow in the breath tester and sign on. You then wait until a decision is made about work. That can be three or four, maybe more hours later.”

I could see Wattic was becoming impatient with me, “Greg, if you’re sent back to the camp after three or four hours, you won’t have done any work will you? There’s TV to watch, go to the gym – you could do with losing some weight. Come to think of it, we’d better book you a medical. Now we like to think we treat our people fairly, we book the medical, you pay for it, the cost is about $650.00 – see the girls at the desk, they’ll take your credit card. If you fail, well, that’s your problem. But! If you pass, after working for us for three months, we’ll refund the cost to you! It doesn’t get much better. Oh, did I mention that you get three shirts, which of course you have to pay for if you leave before three months is up.”

“Hmm,” I stammered, “Do I get pants, a jacket, boots and water bottles etc?”

“Greg!” said the by now thoroughly exasperated Wattic, “I’m offering you a chance to work with a major player in the Australian mining industry, you have to understand, you need to contribute yourself.”

I looked at Wattic, “Mr Hunt,” I said, “From what I understand, you’re offering me a position where I’m on one hour’s notice of being retrenched, working for $1.00 an hour less than the fulltime people I’ll be working with, doing exactly the same job. They’ll get holiday pay and sick pay, but I won’t and I’ll have to supply most of my own PPE and pay for my own medical?”

“Don’t forget the super!” He smiled triumphantly, “You get paid super on 38 hours per week!”

“Hang on”, I replied, “Isn’t it a 12 hour shift, seven days a week, two on, one off?”

“That’s correct,” said Wattic, “That’s a lot of money at $39.00 per hour!”

“But I’ll be working an 84 hour week, not 38 hours!”

“Greg, Greg, Greg!” said Wattic, shaking his head, “You’ll be working on penalty rates, so under Australian Federal law, you’re only entitled to super on 38 hours a week. I tell you what, how good is the Liberal Government! Business mate, business!  That’s why we’re able to offer these wonderful opportunities to people such as yourself. And your fellow workers voted for them, they could see the benefits of changing to labour hire, everybody wins. I tell you what the Church should replace the Virgin Mary with Michaelia Cash, how good is she?”

“Ah,” I replied, thinking I’d understood, “So I only get super on 38 hours, but I get penalty rates, so, everything over 7.5 hours is time and half and double time etc, that’s fair on the $39.00 per hour. I’ll accept that.”

Wattic leapt to his feet. “Mate, what the hell are you playing at? I can see why you’re a truck driver, this is all a bit too much for you. Let me explain.” He sat back down, the sweat still visible on his brow. “Your pay rate is the very generous $39.00 per hour, that is made up of a base rate of $29.50 per hour, it’s amortised and rounded up to the $39.00.”

I sat there dumbfounded. “Mr Hunt, you’re telling me my actual rate is $29.50 per hour, working FIFO at a mine site for two weeks? I can earn $33,00 an hour plus penalties driving a road train around Perth, why the fuck would I accept your offer? It’s bloody theft!  I tell you what Mr Wattic Hunt, Concheater are cunning as shit house rats, labour hire is a term for ripping working people off. You bastards want years of experience before you’ll even consider anyone, then you offer them $10.00 an hour less than an MC driver can earn driving around Perth?” By now I was aware I was shouting, banging the boardroom table with my fist, Wattic was calling the police, alarms were ringing and two burley security guards came barging in, “What’s up bro?” one of them called out. I yelled back, “This world is fucked, it’s bullshit!” They closed in on me.

Next thing I know, my wife is stroking my head, saying, “Calm down, you must have had a nightmare, it’s OK!” and she gave me a kiss. I told her what I’d dreamt, she laughed and said, “No chance, this is Oz, the land of the fair go.”

Greg Ross

© 2019