Friday, 18 September 2020

Why - Australia's biggest meat processors at odds over JobKeeper's influence on job cuts


A livestock crossing sign in remote central Australia
Claims that the JobKeeper program is distorting the beef cattle market have been disputed by others in the industry.(Supplied:

Claims the Federal Government's JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme contributed to the demise of hundreds of jobs at JBS Australia have been challenged by the labour hire company at the centre of the criticism and the meat processor's biggest competitor.

Australia's second largest beef processor, Teys, said it could not access JobKeeper and had not benefitted from the Federal Government initiative through labour hire companies.

Earlier this week, Australia's largest meat processor, JBS Australia, announced it would shed 600 jobs as it moved to scale back operations at its Dinmore plant in Ipswich.

The company had been heavily critical of the JobKeeper program, which it claimed had created inequality in the meat processing sector and contributed to its decision.

But Teys said, while it did use labour hire companies, it received no direct or indirect benefit from the wage subsidy.

"We are getting absolutely no advantage through labour hire companies accessing JobKeeper," head of corporate affairs John Langbridge said.

"We've effectively got nothing to hide, our tax records are made public, and you'll see exactly where our expenses are," Mr Langbridge said.

a row of beef carcasses in an abattoir
Some abattoirs are accessing the JobKeeper payments but the Federal Government rejects claims they are being used to create an uneven playing field.(ABC Rural: Alex Blucher)

Meanwhile, the labour hire company at the centre of the criticism said it was frustrated by suggestions of impropriety.

Regional Workforce Management, a specialist supplier to the meat processing industry, and its parent firm Food Industry People, said it did not pass on any of the JobKeeper subsidy to clients.

"We have not passed on any subsidy in relation to JobKeeper to individual clients that may not have been able to qualify in their own right," CEO Brad Seagrott said.

close up of a pen of droughtmaster cattle
A surge in prices means Australia's cattle are now the most expensive in the world, with joy for producers offset by struggles in the meat industry.(ABC Rural: Matt Brann)

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud also hit back at claims by JBS and the Australian Meat Industry Employees' Union (AMIEU) that the JobKeeper payment was distorting the market.

"We've always said from the start that the big businesses were big enough to look after themselves and their employees," he said.

"Had we not brought in JobKeeper, you may've seen significant job losses in small abattoirs and it's important not to generalise and say all abattoirs are getting it."

Mr Littleproud said the situation could be put down to supply and demand in the marketplace.

However, the Australian Meat Industry Council said it hoped the Federal Government would examine different models to enable all processors, regardless of turnover, to qualify for JobKeeper and other supports.

"It might be a bridge too far, but certainly we've been working on more novel ways to slow the impacts of COVID on our processing and further meat industry groups and as of yet it's still a standard response," CEO Patrick Hutchinson said.

Impact on the price of cattle

Other industry figures want more focus on potential weaknesses in Queensland's beef sector and less on JobKeeper.

"I think it'd be great if we could understand where the exposure is and what the possible gaps could be created by [the JBS decision to shed jobs]," Agforce cattle president Will Wilson said.

"[JBS] are the biggest [processor] and if we don't have them, what sort of state are we going to be in and that might be a market signal.

Meat for sale at a butcher shop.
The Australian Meat Industry Council wants all processors, regardless of turnover, to qualify for supports like JobKeeper.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

"We need at least two bidders [at the saleyards] to get market pressure, so the risk is when we lose bidders, and that's happening, that's where we start to see risk on market value and we need to try to protect ourselves so we've got someone in there bidding," he said.

Optimism in the beef sector

Southern Queensland grazier and former chairman of Meat and Livestock Australia David Crombie said, while processors were doing it tough, the long-term future of the beef industry was sound.

"Processors will buy cattle as cheap as they can to supply the markets they've generated [and] cattlemen will want the maximum price they can get for their product.

"It's an adversarial system but I think the fundamentals of the industry are strong and will come through this, but it may take some time."

Sourced from: ABC News, Australia's biggest meat processors at odds over JobKeeper's influence on job cuts, by  Jodie Gunders and Arlie Felton- Taylor (12th September 2020)

Why - Warrnambool City Council sued in Supreme Court over sacking of Peter Schneider as CEO


A man in a suit smiles at the camera.
Peter Schneider was dismissed after 18 months in the role.(ABC South West Victoria: Matt Neal)

Peter Schneider is suing Warrnambool City Council for unfair dismissal after he was fired as its chief executive just 18 months into the job.

Mr Schneider moved from Perth to Warrnambool in south-west Victoria in February 2019 to take up a four-year position with the council.

He was sacked in July at a specially convened meeting where councillors allegedly fired him without explanation four votes to three.

Dismissed without 'natural justice'

Questions emerged about the closed-door meeting as soon as it concluded.

Councillors Kylie Gaston, Mike Neoh, Sue Cassidy and David Owen voted to oust Mr Schneider.

He has accused the councillors of having a bias against him in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, which details his frustrations over what he claims was a dismissal lacking "natural justice".

Mr Schneider said he was not given the chance to hear allegations against him nor the reasons for his dismissal.

Mr Schneider is suing the council for "failing to afford [him] procedural fairness in making the decision to terminate his employment", saying the decision was made as a result of "actual or perceived bias".

The former CEO said he had yet to receive written notification from the council that he had been fired, and that he received a lump sum of more than $200,000 from council without explanation as to how that amount was calculated.

Council documents revealed the cost of Mr Schneider's termination was $364,000.

Warrnambool City Council has declined to comment.

A man in a jacket and collared shirt smiles at the camera.
Mayor Tony Herbert was one of three councillors who did not vote to remove Mr Schneider.(ABC: Matt Neal)

Accused of being 'vindictive, spiteful'

In his affidavit, Mr Schneider accused the councillors who voted him out of being deceptive in the way the special meeting was handled.

He said the councillors failed to act in good faith in calling a meeting "without disclosing either to me or to all of the councillors the true business of the meeting".

The court filing claimed Cr Gaston made three attempts to call a special meeting, eventually succeeding in passing a motion to "consider a confidential matter relating to the extent of council's contractual powers to terminate the CEO's contract of employment".

It is the handling of this meeting which Mr Schneider alleges was unfair.

He claims Cr Gaston had been seeking legal advice about his contract since February, five months before the dismissal.

Within his affidavit, Mr Schneider also revealed details of a "360-degree" staff survey in which councillors and external stakeholders were asked to rate his job performance.

Three councillors are accused of giving Mr Schneider a rating described by the consultant who ran the survey as "vindictive and spiteful".

Council in-fighting outlined

Within his document to the court, Mr Schneider also detailed "long-standing enmities" and political in-fighting between councillors.

He said the Local Government Inspectorate was called in to investigate claims he had caused unreasonable delays within months of commencing his position.

The claims allegedly related to a pontoon that was installed near the house of former councillor Peter Hulin.

Mr Schneider said he and Mr Hulin were cleared of any improper action by the inspectorate.

The affidavit also claims council's former governance officer allegedly bullied a council worker and accessed confidential staff personnel files as part of a bullying investigation.

Mr Schneider said the staff member emailed other councillors after he opened an investigation into her actions, accusing him of a "malicious and improper investigation".

He said the allegations were investigated by an independent investigator and found to be unsubstantiated.

Warrnambool City Council has yet to respond to Mr Schneider's affidavit.

The matter will return to the Supreme Court for a directions hearing next week.

Sourced from: ABC News, Warrnambool City Council sued in Supreme Court over sacking of Peter Schneider as CEO, by Daniel Miles (Thursday September 17, 2020)

When in Australia: Queensland criminalises wage theft by employers

Directors and business owners, and potentially anyone who aids an underpayment, could face criminal prosecution under new Queensland laws which could put unscrupulous employers behind bars for underpaying their employees.

The amendments to the Criminal Code in the Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 passed with Queensland Parliament's bi-partisan support.

The changes mean employers who deliberately underpay their workers could be jailed for up to 10 years or face unlimited fines under the strict new laws.

The legislation expands the definition of "stealing" in the Criminal Code, making it a crime to 'intentionally' fail to pay proper wages and entitlements, including failure to pay superannuation, to workers.

The new laws also create a fast track and low-cost wage recovery process for workers to claim an underpayment of their wages through the Queensland Industrial Magistrates Court.

Previously, underpayment remedies were limited to financial penalties, but if deliberate or intentional conduct to withhold fair payment can be shown, there is now a risk of imprisonment.

Expanded definition of "stealing" in the Criminal Code

The amendments add a further limb to the definition of stealing (section 391 of the Criminal Code). Generally, an employer will commit the offence of stealing when they fraudulently do not pay an employee an amount owed in relation to work performed (wages or super).

The entitlements can be:

  • entitlements under a modern award or enterprise agreement (but potentially not a certified agreement or collective agreement – as they are not fair work instruments under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth))
  • amounts deducted unlawfully or withheld
  • unpaid superannuation
  • amounts owed under a contract of employment
  • amounts owed under a Fair Work Commission Order, including orders made following unfair dismissal proceedings.

Importantly, the failure to pay the employee must be fraudulent. This means accidental underpayments, such as when an employer accidentally misclassifies an employee, will not meet the new criminal definition.

The amendments make stealing from an employee a special case of stealing, reflected by the harsher maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment (compared to the maximum of five years imprisonment for a general stealing offence) for the new crime.

This is the same maximum penalty faced by a worker found to have stolen from their employer.

The amendments also add an aggravating circumstance to the offence of fraud where the offender is the employer of the victim. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years, which is the same as the maximum penalty for an employee who commits fraud against their employer.

Corporations and individual business owners at risk

While individuals who are convicted of the offence face potential jail terms as well as fines, corporations can also be criminally liable for offences under the Criminal Code, although they only face financial penalties.

Any corporation that commits the offences faces an unlimited maximum penalty. If it ever arises, the court will most likely consider the penalties imposed for similar civil cases as an indicator of what penalty would be appropriate.

Queensland criminalises wage theftWhen

Public interest and self-reporting

An interesting issue for investigators and prosecutors will be determining when, if at all, it will be in the public interest to investigate or bring a prosecution in relation to these offences.

This may be a particularly difficult question where there are alternatives to prosecution available to the victim that may lead to a similar or better result.

Workers who have been short-changed will usually be able to bring civil proceedings against their employer and seek significant civil penalties and orders for compensation.

Another interesting issue may be whether these offences affect an employer's future decision to self-report underpayments when they have been discovered to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The possibility of criminal offences, or even criminal investigation, may be a significant factor to consider before potentially making any admissions to the Fair Work Ombudsman when self-reporting.

Similar offences have been implemented in Victoria and are now being considered in Western Australia.

Sourced from:Mondaq,Australia: Queensland criminalises wage theft by employers by Rachel Drew and Damien Payard  (Thursday September 17, 2020)

Monday, 14 September 2020

Can : I receive workers compensation weekly payments. Can I also receive maternity leave?

 Weekly payments are paid when an injured worker is unfit to perform their pre-injury or other suitable employment as a result of the injury they have suffered.

So what happens to your weekly payments when you are unable to work because of your injury, but also because you are pregnant or have recently had a child that requires care?

Parental leave (incorporating maternity leave, paternity and partner leave, and adoption leave) is an allowance or benefit provided to employees who have worked for their employers for a specific amount of time.

The workers compensation legislation specifically deals with weekly payments and annual leave, long service leave, holiday leave and sick leave, however is silent on whether an injured worker can receive parental leave payments while also receiving weekly payments.

This matter was dealt with by the Workers Compensation Commission in Miller v New South Wales Police Service (No.2) [2007] NSW WCCPD 216, and confirmed in Kirkbide v The State of New South Wales (Ambulance Service) [2019] NSWWCC 236.

These decisions specifically dealt with maternity leave payments and in summary, those decisions concluded:

  1. The legislation is silent on whether an injury worker can receive weekly benefits and also maternity leave payments.
  2. Maternity leave payments are not a ‘dual benefit' under the Act, and have no relationship or association with the receipt of weekly compensation payments due to incapacity for work.
  3. Maternity leave payments are not categorised earnings, and do not satisfy the insurer's obligation to pay workers compensation entitlements.
  4. Leave taken as a result of pregnancy does not affect an injured worker's entitlement to compensation.

The Workers Compensation Commission has confirmed that injured workers can receive maternity leave payments (or similar parental leave payments) while receiving weekly compensation payments.

If you are unsure of your entitlement to weekly payments and other leave entitlements, it is critical that you seek expert legal advice to make sure you are receiving your full workers compensation entitlements.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Sourced from: Mondaq, I receive workers compensation weekly payments. Can I also receive maternity leave? by Aleisha Nair (Thursday September 10, 2020)

Why Queensland groups say racial hate crimes not taken seriously and stronger laws are needed

 A wave of racist incidents linked to the coronavirus pandemic has prompted community and religious leaders from across the spectrum to call on Queensland politicians to do more to stamp out hate crime and vilification.

Queensland's Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall said the diverse coalition of about 20 organisations was "very unusual" and showed how critical the issue was across the community.

"We've heard of lots of incidents happening over the years [but] since COVID, there has been more fear in the community, and we've seen the Asian community targeted initially and more recently the African community," he said.

Mr McDougall said the group was pushing for stronger legal protections after compiling a dossier of hate-related incidents dating back to 2013 it said demonstrated the state's anti-discrimination laws were not "doing their job".

"In the last 20 years, we've had very few prosecutions," he said.

"Very often hate-related crimes are not being prosecuted as such — they're being prosecuted as public nuisance."

"[While] there have been previous attempts to strengthen laws, I think what we are seeing now from the community is their absolute frustration with the inadequacy of the current laws."

Hate crime treated as 'wilful damage'

Ali Kadri from the Islamic Council of Queensland, a member of the coalition, said the community sentiment was: "Nothing happens, there are not enough protections, and not enough repercussions for people who commit this type [of abuse]".

In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, the words "St Tarrant" and a swastika were graffitied outside the Holland Park Mosque.

"It's the name of a terrorist who committed a heinous crime and it's got a hate angle to it [but was treated as] wilful damage," he said.

In another case, a Brisbane man who threatened to set fire to a woman's hijab in an unprovoked attack in 2014 was fined $500 for assault.

The coalition said the current criminal offence of serious vilification, which has a maximum penalty of six months' jail or a $9,000 fine, failed to capture "the majority of harassment experienced by targeted communities".

To tackle the gap, the group has recommended making racial or religious motivation an aggravating circumstance for existing offences

It also recommends introducing a hate crime protective order along the lines of a domestic violence order or a peace and good behaviour order.

Its other suggestions included creating a hate crime scrutiny panel, similar to a body that operates in the United Kingdom, to review how complaints are made and handled.

"We need to make people feel that they can actually make a complaint and something will be done," Mr McDougall said.

'Broke me into pieces'

A woman seen from behind staring at the Brisbane River, the Story Bridge visible in the distance
Martha says her friends and family regularly face overt racism.(ABC News: Kate McKenna)

Former Brisbane retail worker Martha (not her real name) was serving a customer four years ago when she said she came face to face with a woman's racism.

"She said, 'I don't want to be served by you, I don't want to be served by a black person'," she said.

"I wanted to cry in that moment … it just broke me into pieces."

But she said racist incidents had been far from isolated in her experience.

Neighbours had levelled racial slurs at her relatives, filmed their children, and even dumped rubbish in their yard during the pandemic period, with the family urged to contact the council if there were future issues.

"We should all be working together to actually hold people who do such behaviours to account so they don't do it again," she said.

It is a sentiment shared by Nadia Saeed, 22, who endured a racist tirade from a stranger in Logan just days after helping to organise a vigil to mark the Christchurch massacre.

"He started to say to me, 'I don't care that your people died … I wish you'd been shot as well. You don't belong here'," she said.

Ms Saeed said protections needed to be bolstered.

A muslim woman wearing a red head scarf
Nadia Saeed says current laws are not enough of a deterrent.

"I think that the laws need to be a lot harsher … there needs to be something in place to deter people from doing what they do," she said.

The advisory group includes members of the Islamic Women's Association of Australia (Queensland), Uniting Church, Queensland Jewish Community Services, Queensland African Communities Council, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, and Pacific Islander Community Queensland.

"This affects all of us as Queenslanders … whether they are of an ethnic background or First Nations people or of an Anglo-Saxon background," Mr Kadri said.

"We are doing it to make our state safe."

Intolerance in schools

Peter Forday from Multicultural Australia said Queensland needed legislation that promoted "safety, welcome and belonging".

He pointed to anti-Chinese sentiment associated with COVID-19 and the tensions between Australia and China.

"A sad example is a child in my seven-year-old daughter's class stating that, 'We don't like Chinese because they give us the virus.'"

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said hate crime and racial vilification had no place in Queensland and she was prepared to work with stakeholders, including the coalition of organisations, to discuss their proposal.

Shadow Attorney-General David Janetzki said Queenslanders were protected under the state's anti-discrimination act, but the LNP was committed to ensuring laws were up to date and in line with community expectations.

Sourced from:ABC News,Queensland groups say racial hate crimes not taken seriously and stronger laws are needed by By Kate McKenna (Monday September 14, 2020)

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