Thursday, April 26, 2012

Casual Work the New Black

It used to be gender and race that the Australian workplace had to come to grips with and stop discriminatory practices around. It happened by changes to law, then practice, and finally (in most cases) thinking. Now it’s being a casual worker that can get you marginalized.  Add age to that, and you are really up against it.

Casual workers tend to keep quiet about bullying knowing that if they speak out they will lose their job either immediately or later when their contract is up for renewal. Then when this does happen, the work place can claim it was not a case of bullying and will manufacture all kinds of on the surface entirely plausible reasons as to why someone was not offered more work.

I decided that my bully had in it for me so badly that taking him through a mediation process might not help my cause but was unlikely to make it any worse than it already was. My main reason for having mediation was to have an opportunity to stand up to him and tell him his behaviour was unacceptable with a 3rd independent person present to witness the process, and to have concrete evidence should anything develop in the future. I still suspected that he would continue to work against me in the background and he did. The daily sarcasm and commenting on my personal life did cease at least which is what I wanted.

My bully was not my immediate manager but was a manager in my area and we worked in the same office. Despite me telling my own manager many times what he was doing, and her agreeing with me, she did nothing about it and left me to work out how to deal with him; hence the mediation. The department had many changes; my own manager left as did the head of department. Because of the bullies strong personality he was able to get the ear of the acting head ensuring that my contract was not renewed when mine and my colleagues both came up and I continued on as a term to term casual which he could do nothing about at that time.

Bullying can take subtle forms. In my case, after having worked for an educational organisation for over a year I applied for a job in my department and was awarded a .4 contract while a new person was awarded a fulltime one. We worked both in distinct and cross over areas. This person let me know immediately that she was after the courses I taught by joking that even though she had a fulltime position the work they had given her did not suit her and she wanted mine as well, all she had to do she said is ‘kill you’ and I can have your load too.

My bully who had employed her moved immediately to praise and promote her, while constantly undermining and demeaning me. Even though she had zero experience in teaching against my 15 odd years, he placed her in my classroom as a ‘spy’. When this person was finally in a position of power over me as my acting education manager she decided to not offer me my usual ‘casual’ load and employed two new casuals in my place. I was never given a transparent reason for this, but the organisation was able to hide behind evasive comments such as it being for ‘business reasons’. Even after an Unfair Dismissal case that I brought, they were able to hind behind the definition of what a casual was and that that was the capacity in which I had been employed which could change at any time. The Unfair Dismissal Process does not have a definition of the kind of work I was actually doing and could offer me no protection either. I appealed to higher management several times using the very words; ‘Please do what is right not what your organisation can legally get away with’. Needless to say it fell on deaf ears. Ethics and business – even public education is business these days - have apparently long since parted company.

The problem is with the definition of casual work. It needs seriously reforming and rethinking. I had worked for almost 5 years in the same job teaching the same courses. In fact I had written the courses I taught and many others besides including commercial courses that earned the department money (teachers are required to ‘increase the business’ these days).  I am much more experienced than my current manager and the two people she employed and also more qualified than them all. Feedback from many students, my two former managers, and praise from the head of department and the CEO himself over some of my projects was evidence that I was doing an excellent job and had no complaint processes in play.

I put it to the CEO of my organisation that as almost 50% of his work force are casual, that by his failure to protect me or at least show me the same professional respect of a hearing as he had given the other two staff members, he is indicating that half of his employees can treat the other half as they see fit. Further, that being casual at this large educational institution makes you a person of no consequence, a non-person, an unprotected person - expendable. I wrote to him again yesterday. I am hoping he will change his mind and have me reinstated but I have probably burned my bridges by having the gall to complain at all – so I won’t hold my breath.

1 comment:

  1. Lorese, you are so right about the vulnerability of part time, casual, and contract workers. They are easy targets for exploitation and bullying, as to speak up means so often that contracts are not renewed or reasons are found to "let them go".

    As Australia follows this trend largely imported from America, I anticipate that we will see in this country the steady erosion of workers being able to associate in Unions to protect their conditions of employment, wages, and basic rights. This has been evident in the USA for most of the 20th Century where Unionism as we know it struggles to survive.

    This clearly suits the political agenda of the Conservative Right, and the Workchoices measures under the Howard Government were clearly intended to reinforce this trend to casualisation/contract labour and break the power of both the Unions and the Labor Party.

    Hardly surprising that bullying in its many forms is so widespread when the bullies either make the laws when in power , or powerfully resist measures against Workplace Bullying when not in power through the lobby groups which support them (e.g. the Mining Industry at present.)