We’re all in this together? What a load of garbage

David Murtagh 30 November 2020 43
Garbage bins

Garbage bins ready for collection …. anyday now … Photo: Region Media.

We’re all in this together.

That’s been the mantra for 2020 – the year that’s brought almost every catastrophe to our door bar locusts, although if you were in Africa in August you can cross that catastrophe off your list.

Australia has had its first recession in decades, hundreds of thousands of people have been made unemployed and probably millions underemployed, the deficit has blown out to triple figures, and God only knows how many bankruptcies and suicides will follow, and that’s before hail and the fires. There is almost nothing good about 2020 except that it is slowly, mercifully coming to an end and surely 2021 has to be better, right?

But through it all, we could always take heart in the mantra that we’re all in this together.

But we’re not.

For the last few weeks, for example, Canberra has been waiting and watching to see whose garbage collection would be disrupted next.

Queue at Mugga Lane

At least there weren’t locusts in the line at Mugga Lane. Photo: Facebook.

Maybe you’d be lucky and your service would only be delayed a few days while others had full bins for an extra week. Maybe you carted your rubbish to a collection point. Canberrans, being a resilient bunch, have dealt with it. And in the scheme of a year which also included killer bastard magpies, it’s probably not a big deal.

READ ALSO: Magpies are evil, rotten, malevolent, dead-eyed bastards. Fact check: true

Except it is. And it should be. Especially when you learn more about the pay offers from Suez that the Transport Workers Union keeps rejecting. So far, there have been six offers that didn’t meet the approval of Suez-employed garbos.

So what is so egregiously low-ball and mean about the Suez offers? What are those greedy French capitalist swine at Suez doing to our Aussie-battler-hero garbos?

Here are the basics.

The union is pushing for a 4 per cent yearly increase in drivers’ wages for three years.

Suez has proposed a wage increase of 2 per cent in 2021, 3 per cent in 2022 and 3 per cent in 2023. Last week they upped it to 8.3 per cent over three years which was also rejected.

Currently the hourly rate is $37 an hour. That’s about $73 k a year base rate. Without overtime. And there’s a lot of overtime. And penalty rates. In fact, they add about $35 k a year to garbos total pay. On average, they’re on about $110-120 k a year.

Nice work if you can get it. Especially when so many don’t have work.

In a statement to Region Media on 17 November, TWU ACT Secretary Klaus Pinkas said: “It is a fundamental belief of TWU members that it is a good thing that critical service workers be well paid.”

Totes agree. And it would seem that these critical service workers are well paid. Very well paid.

But it’s probably worth seeing how these wages compare.

You see, the first garbos strike was announced on 29 October. At the same time, on the very same day, in fact, hospital cleaners at Calvary Bruce picketed the hospital. These hospital cleaners weren’t striking because they were offered 2, 3 and 3 per cent over three years. These cleaners on $22.02 an hour were offered 5 cents an hour.

Read that again. It’s not a typo. Five. Cents. An. Hour. That works out to an annual increase of 3/5 of stuff all (rounding up).

Those poor workers, whose stomach-churning job you would never want to do yourself, are represented by the United Workers Union.

Lyndal Ryan, United Workers Union Director for Property Services, said in late October: “These hospital cleaners are all migrant workers, many of them on work visas”.

“Their decision to take industrial action is a brave and considered step.

“Throughout the pandemic, cleaners have been publicly lauded as heroes. This is how the Calvary Hospital’s specialist cleaners are being repaid for their services and dedication. With management who won’t even meet with them and an employer who profits from their labour, but goes to extraordinary efforts to keep them poor.”

Hard to argue with that.

Are garbos essential workers? Of course. So are hospital cleaners. Which would you rather be? And which would you rather be at $20 an hour? It’s no contest. But could you be a hospital cleaner at $37 an hour? Yeah, nah. Double it and then we can start a conversation.

Is highlighting their pay being unfair to the garbos? Sure is. But comparisons here are important. Because it’s a far sight more than a hospital cleaner on $20 an hour takes home. Or prison guards and police officers and school teachers who all earn less. Or the preschool teacher who earns much less. Or Uber drivers.

Or maybe you.

And it’s unlikely you’ll be walking away with 4 per cent a year for three years. Or even 8.3 per cent.

So we’re not all in this together. That’s just rubbish.

What's Your Opinion?

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43 Responses to We’re all in this together? What a load of garbage
Ol L Ol L 8:18 pm 15 Dec 20

Give in to their demands then simply sack them for small infractions over time. Eventually they will all be gone

thegregster thegregster 12:19 pm 11 Dec 20

I notice that there haven’t been too many workers in the public service who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, so I’m just a bit skeptical about a slogan that says “we’re all in this together”.

Guy Noble Guy Noble 7:29 pm 03 Dec 20

37 bux an hr to sit in a truck and drive for a few hrs,,, where do i sign up

rsm1105 rsm1105 12:20 pm 02 Dec 20

Nice emoting from the author.

Presumably the cleaners would get the benefit of the annual national wage rise?

Everyone outside the public sector has been well aware of the shortcomings of the “we are all in this together” sing along.

Archie Mac Archie Mac 6:13 am 02 Dec 20

Not a job I’d want - what they are asking seems reasonable to me.

And the fact they have all this O/T available suggests not a lot of people are lining up for the job either

Matthew Pez Matthew Pez 1:48 am 02 Dec 20

Great opinion piece, the drivers are being extremely greedy. Shame that Suez can't can them (pun intended) and hire folks who would love a job and the money that they are currently on.

    SK Vukovic SK Vukovic 8:03 am 02 Dec 20

    Perry Matthew it is not a shame that people can't be fired for industrial action. Sure, I might not agree with the wage changes the Suez staff are asking for, and yes, having to sort out rubbish removal is frustrating and inconvenient. But I respect their right to take industrial action, they're obviously unhappy and want to improve their circumstances.

    You can't have capitalism without industrial rights.

GZD GZD 10:14 pm 01 Dec 20

Suez should not cave to unreasonable demands
Several offers have been made, which seem damn fair given the current economic climate
If the workers don’t feel they’re getting a fair deal, go get another job and leave the work to people who will work for those rates

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:10 pm 01 Dec 20

The demands of the drivers and their union are yet another example of the airy assumption that the rest of Australia will, forever and day, be willing and able to maintain funding for Canberra.

In an era where state-based parochialism is rampant, where most state budgets have dire and growing levels of debt, and where our largest (by far) trading partner has effectively declared a trade war on Australia, that truly is an heroic assumption.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:34 am 02 Dec 20

    How is this in any way related to the rest of Australia funding Canberra?

    They are being paid for from ACT government funds sourced from ACT taxpayers.

    Your comment doesn’t make sense.

Rebecca McAlister Rebecca McAlister 8:44 pm 01 Dec 20

I’m not going to weigh into the discussion about wages. But seriously? Just make less rubbish, people! Buy less, re-use, compost. It’s not rocket science.

Cheryl Thuillier Cheryl Thuillier 6:27 pm 01 Dec 20

Garbage truck drivers want unbelievable pay rise. Nurses could get, why should the garbage truck drivers

    Martine Guesdon Martine Guesdon 7:48 pm 01 Dec 20

    Cheryl Thuillier The point is they ALL deserve pay rises.

    Nathan Fenech Nathan Fenech 9:14 am 02 Dec 20

    I didnt realise that Suez employed nurses ...

chewy14 chewy14 6:21 pm 01 Dec 20

The problem with the rhetoric shown by some people supporting these strikes is that none of these proposed pay rises have anything to do with productivity gains or improved work levels.

They are simply money grabs at a time of global recession. Money that is paid out of very strained everyday rate and taxpayer funds. Money that then can’t be used for other critical public services or wage increases elsewhere.

I’d love to see anyone explain why these garbage truck drivers deserve this pay rise using some form of logical economic argument beyond “they deserve it”.

David Brown David Brown 4:47 pm 01 Dec 20

I am waiting for a rates rebate for contracted services not supplied.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:07 pm 01 Dec 20

    David Brown that would involve Suez giving the ACT Government a refund, which just ain't going to happen. That's what happens when we contract out to multibillion dollar private companies.

    David Brown David Brown 9:46 am 02 Dec 20

    Jo Hann I agree and I think the government should be demanding a rebate. They contracted to provide a service. They have not met their obligations.

Darcy Stanford Darcy Stanford 3:47 pm 01 Dec 20

The notion that just because Hospital cleaners are criminally undervalued and mistreated by capital, garbage workers should shut up and be grateful for the scraps from master's table, is ridiculous. You want to talk about the real failure to be in this together, talk about top level management getting bonuses while firing staff to protect profits. Talk about business sinking revenue from covid bailouts straight into shareholder dividends. Talk about private health insurers complaining that their bottom line might be effected by having to provide services to all their customers at once, as if they should be immune from the risks of their business. Talk about people with multi-million dollar portfolios telling the garbage men and hospital cleaners and police officers and whoever else you want to make a point of that they should risk death and serious impairment in the name of the almighty dollar.

Joanne McRae Joanne McRae 3:00 pm 01 Dec 20

Do we not have employment arbitration here in ACT?

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:06 pm 01 Dec 20

    Joanne McRae we do, so Suez is pitching their case in the court of public opinion with their stooges writing propaganda like this before it ends up there.

Megan Baker-Goldsmith Megan Baker-Goldsmith 2:53 pm 01 Dec 20

What a load of absolute crap.

Blaming workers for negotiating for decent pay and conditions; rather than blaming the company that can afford those decent pay and conditions but refuses to is utterly ridiculous.

Suez can end the strike by agreeing to better pay and conditions. Suez is the reason bin collection has been disrupted.

Donna Venables Donna Venables 1:17 pm 01 Dec 20

They’ve had locusts at Nyngan about two weeks ago.

Jo Hann Jo Hann 1:16 pm 01 Dec 20

I'm willing to bet that the same David Murtagh who writes this garbage that uses female-dominated industries such as cleaning, nursing and teaching to make his anti-garbo point is also one of those who denies the existence of a gender pay gap.

Note also that there's not a whisper in this article about what the pay rates of upper management in Suez are. Now THAT would be worth hearing.

Murtagh has form in trumpeting the Conservative line - just look at his justifications for climate denial in other pieces. The more I see rusted-on ideologues writing about how the TWU members are being greedy, the more inclined I am to support the rolling strikes. The best way to get out of recession is to provide the means by which people can spend our way out of it.

Jennifer White Jennifer White 1:10 pm 01 Dec 20

The concept that we’re all in this together is as rubbish as this article. Save your time and don’t bother reading it.

The point of this article is to divide even further.

    Hannah Zurcher Hannah Zurcher 1:14 pm 01 Dec 20

    Let's really all be in this together. Raises for hospital cleaners please! Better work conditions for garbos please!

    Jenni Zimoch Jenni Zimoch 4:47 pm 01 Dec 20

    Hannah Zurcher pay nurses and teachers more.

    Hannah Zurcher Hannah Zurcher 4:50 pm 01 Dec 20

    Jenni Zimoch that too!

    Jorge Gatica Jorge Gatica 4:54 pm 01 Dec 20

    Jennifer White the point of the article is to put the facts on the table so people can make up their own mind

    Jennifer White Jennifer White 5:01 pm 01 Dec 20

    Jorge Gatica it’s been reported 20 times in the last week. Everyone knows this. The article has tone and is pushing an agenda it divides

    Michael Chipperfield Michael Chipperfield 5:44 pm 01 Dec 20

    Pushing agendas (individual, corporate or Government) is the core function of any healthy society. As an individual, you'll be exposed to a plethora of others agendas everyday when you go outside, turn on the radio or T.V., even when you talk to friends and others. You'll even propose agendas to others where you leave them no choice but to determine where they stand on the topic at the risk of being divisive. The choice you make is to support those that you feel are correct, hopefully keeping in mind the greater majority when you decide.

    Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 12:58 pm 02 Dec 20

    Jenni Zimoch and allied health workers currently on $30/hr, but according to Jennifer, its just a rubbish issue as is the article which draws attention to the great divide

    Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 1:00 pm 02 Dec 20

    Jennifer White actually just touches on the issue and is the tip of the iceberg that the greater public should know about how poorly paid many essential public servants endure

Robyn Baer Robyn Baer 1:04 pm 01 Dec 20

Locusts disguised themselves as white cabbage moths!

    Beth Wright Beth Wright 1:17 pm 01 Dec 20

    Robyn Baer Or midges - I have been cleaning up piles of dead midges from every corner in my house for several weeks now. They had piled so high in the sliding door frame that I struggled to open or close the door.

1967 1967 12:59 pm 01 Dec 20

Hospital cleaners should be paid more.

One of the mote concerning tbings in this article is that the drivers are on a base of $75kand are working enough O.T. to bring that up to $120k.
Havong worked under very similar conditions for a large telco for many years, I can tell you, being permanently understaffed is no fun for any one.
Perhap Suez should be encouraged to employ more drivers

    chewy14 chewy14 6:16 pm 01 Dec 20

    Or perhaps you would then also hear these drivers squeal more like stuck pigs because this amount of overtime is exactly what they want.

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