WorkChoices creates climate of fear

An independent academic study looking at the effect of WorkChoices and Welfare to Work reforms in the Northern Rivers has found a climate of fear and confusion.

The report, which is due to be presented at Newcastle University early next month, concluded with the following statement: Vulnerable Australians in regional communities can look forward to a future of diminished prospects and quality of life, in spite of a booming economy.

The report has been authored by Dr Sandy Darab and Dr Yvonne Hartman from Southern Cross Universitys School of Arts and Social Sciences.

Dr Hartman said participants in the study experienced lower wages and reduced working conditions and there was also emotional fallout.

The workers were stressed, she said. Some werent sure of their rights. Some got depressed. Some of them were working incredible hours without breaks so no wonder they were exhausted. This was in lower skilled occupations like hospitality.

Dr Hartman said the study also highlighted the connection between WorkChoices and recent welfare reforms with one piece of legislation reinforcing the power of the other.

She said a job seeker cannot refuse work and then expect to receive income support from the government. And in a WorkChoices environment that work might be less than satisfactory.

If youre expected to sign an AWA and you refuse, Centrelink can cut you off for eight weeks. You actually have to accept an AWA. You cant turn around and say you want to collectively bargain. You can say no, but then youve got to live on what youve got.

There are also eight week waiting periods if you are dismissed and your employer says its for misconduct or if you choose to leave a job.

Dr Hartman said it was people with no bargaining power who were vulnerable.

If you are in a good bargaining position, you can name your terms, she said. People with skills in demand or resources to fall back on, its of no consequence to them.

But if youre young or unskilled or poor, you havent got any bargaining power, and this is particularly so in regional areas where there is a higher rate of unemployment.

For more on WorkChoices see page 15.

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