Can education replace the law?

The federal government’s proposal to remove unfair dismissal provisions
for companies with less than 100 employees certainly has a lot of people

This segment
on ABC radio’s pm program tonight discusses
the possibility that Tasmania may become the pathfinder for the rest
of Australia in the battleground over the issue.

[T]he Australian State with perhaps the most at stake
is Tasmania, where the vast majority of companies have fewer than 100

We can understand it from the employer’s point of vies.
has a lot of sympathy for people who mortgage their houses and sign
away the rights to their firstborn children in order to set up their
own small business. It’s hard work and it although it has its privileges,
the constant battle to keep cash flowing in the door is mostly heart-wrenching.

However, we are saddened by the attitude of employers who feel that
unfair dismissal is their enemy,

In the words of Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive
Damon Thomas

Businesses we’re talking about a very wary of hiring new people.
In fact, it’s an unfortunate truism that at the small business end in
Tasmania you actually get people saying I won’t hire those people, I
do need them, but I won’t hire them because one day I might have to
fire them.

There is no doubt this is the attitude of many small businesses and
it is hard being a small business person. But it also hard
being a low paid worker with a mortgage and a family to support.

Don’t faint but Unions Tasmania secretary, Simon Cocker,
doesn’t agree:

Here we’re facing the very real prospect that these medium
size enterprises will be able to say to their workers, "here’s
your AWA, if you don’t like it, walk", and that worker has got
no comeback.

How can we ever get these two sides to agree?


Well we don’t give much hope to TCCI’s answer

If you don’t treat your workforce properly, you’ll have no
motivation, you’ll have less productivity, and at the end of the day,
you’re the loser, as well as the worker.

Interviewer, Tim Jeanes states the obvious:

But that’s just words. I mean, realistically, what can we
put in place?

To which Thomas replies:

Well, one part of it will be, or could be, a proper coordinated
education and promotions campaign about that very issue, and that’s
one thing that our chamber has actually put to the Federal Government
– a proposal for a small, but significant, pilot program to be
run in Tasmania whereby every employer in the State would receive a
proper guide on how to hire, how to treat, how to deal with your employees,
proper workplace practices, and offer that on an annual basis to make
sure that people were up to date with how you get the best productivity
out of your workforce, and how your workforce gets the best out of you.

Oh, that’s just great. Perhaps we could do the same with car thieves.
Let’s remove the laws against car theft and implement an education program
to show these people the effects stealing cars is going to have on their

Many, many employers know about keeping their staff motivated, but
a lot don’t. They have just started up their businesses and their HR
skills are not great. Why should they be? They didn’t go into business
to be HR managers. But unfortunately like it or not, that’s one of the
things they have to be.

This is the central issue about unfair dismissal. It’s not that employers
don’t have the ability to fire underperforming employees, they don’t
have the skills to manage underperformance.

Instead of arguing for relaxation of unfair dismissal, peak employer
bodies like TCCI and the Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry
should be arguing for more support
for employers in this vital area, Imagine how more productive Australia
could be if we improved the management of performance in small business.

Unfortunately, believes that both sides in this debate
are too blinded be either idealogy or downright fear to be able to see
the other’s side of the fence.

The government is blinded by the idealogical view that employers are
putting up the money and they should be able to do what they want.

On the other hand, the Opposition Labor Party is too bound up in trying
to make find a political handle on this issue.

Both the peak employer and union bodies are a bit closer to the action
and see the real fears of their members.

Australia crys out for a leader who will bring these two groups together
rather than driving them apart.

The loss of power and the ‘Men’s Movement’

When I was teaching there was some interesting research going around regarding boys perception of teacher’s time spent with boys and girls.
Firstly, by analysing video of many co-ed classes the research found that boys overwhelmingly received more of the teacher’s time – if my memory serves me correctly it was at least a two-to-one ration. What was interesting though was the boys perception of teachers’ time. In these same classes, boys reported that the teachers spent about the same amount of time with boys as with girls.
Further, whenever teachers took any action to redress the objective measure of imbalance the boys complained that the teachers were spending too much time with the girls and they weren;t getting a fair go.
I have a suspicion that the modern ‘Men’s Movement’ is an expression of the same phenomenom.
I was prompted again to think about this after reading Farah Farouque’s moving piece The male backlash in The Age.
There is no doubt that many men feel alienated, lonely and feel an extreme loss of identity and the most common trigger for those feelings is marriage breakdown. You can only feel compassion for the plight of these men.
However, as Eva Cox points out, the use of “victim strategies” by the men’s movement, previously adopted by early feminists with little success are equally likely to provide only false hope to men. One of the most prominent, and politically successful aims of these groups has been to push for more male teachers in primary schools. They argue that boys are being brought up to be too “girly” and this is another factor driving a wedge between them and their non custodial sons.
This is the tip of the iceberg for these groups. At the heart of their argument is that the pendulum has swung too far. Rather than being discriminated against, women now have it all in their favour and men are left out. As pointed out recently, this is partly due to the loss of identity many of these men feel as a result of the collapse of manufacturing industry throughout the western world.
But it is also typical of men to ‘find an enemy’. In these men’s eyes, women have become the enemy. This is so sad, because the only possible outcome of this view is to perpertate the problem and further alienate men.
Far from needing more blokey male role models, these men, and the boys who will become them, need to learn about relationship. Most seperated men just didn’t see it coming. They are not able to recognise the signs of a deteriorating relationship. They think that a few arguments are just normal and even if they do have an inkling that there is a problem they don’t have the skills to do anything about it.
We men are all tought to ignore relationships and rely on outward signs of success or manhood for our identity. We are all tought ‘not to cry’ – if not by our parents, we soon learn it in the schoolyard. We learn that we talk about football, fast and powerful cars, fast and powerful computers and women with big boobs. We learn that we don’t talk about how we feel.
It is not women who are our enemy it is ourselves. It is the hardest thing in the world to break out of the mould after forty or so years of conditioning and talk about how we feel but that’s just what we need to do. If only we could teach our boys to be real men. Strong men. Men who are fully men with all the emotions and characteristics of full human beings. Men who can enjoy taking a car apart and putting it back together again and at the same time can sit around with other men discussing the real beauty of the women they love and how they could love them better. These are the sorts of role models our boys need.
[For further information phone Mensline on 1300 78 99 78 or visit]

Men, Cars & Cooking

In her latest
BOSS Endnote
, the always interesting Amanda Sinclair. currently
occupying a visiting position at the Judge
Institute of Management
at Cambridge Univeristy, points to a profound
social phenomenom currently taking place in Britain.

The machine is being replaced at the heart of traditional masculine
identity by … wait for it … cooking.

With barely a murmur, the once unthinkable has recently taken place
— the last vestige of the British car manufacturing industry has
disappeared with the demise of MG Rover. Observing the pride with which
British men regard their cars Sinclair opines

Machines have clearly been at the heart of the construction
of traditional Enlgish masculinity

Not to fall into absolut despair however, Sinclair notes that parallel with the decline of England as a manufacturing power, new
roles have emerged for men. It appears that English chefs now lead "their
rivals in France and Italy as pioneer of fantastic English eating"
while "Organic farming and and premium foods are also enjoying
huge popularity for some English men." is not a great fan of the "poor lost men"
philosophy of the modern men’s movement, but this loss of identity has
huge ramifications for the evolution of English society. Perhaps it
is a hugely Good Thing.

It makes interesting reading with the juxtoposition of Sinclair’s observation
of morphing of male identity with the highly criticised actions of the
‘Pheonix Four’ (senior executives of MG Rover) who left the company
with tens of millions while workers redundancies were left unpaid.

Perhaps having a generation of executives who have a profound connection
with the land, primary produce and how to make great food from it might
just result in building great British enterprises.

Mind and Body ageing together

Sue from Calendar Girl is finding it hard to keep body and mind in synch as the years pass.
I wonder what this tells us about the transition from youth to full adulthood. In so many ways we want to hold on to our youth. As each decade passes it becomes harder to keep up the pretence that we are still in our youth – although, as Sue points out, our age is one where many of us go to great lengths to hold onto every vestige and form of youth in our bodies.
Reflecting on this, I realise that I have gone through a transition over the last couple of years. Physically, my hair is now thoroughly grey and some of it is silver. I grew a beard recently and realised it was almost white.
I actually like it. I’ve liked my grey hair all through my 40s.
But something else has happened to me more recently. I am now approaching the age at when many of my colleagues are looking forward to retirement. My older brother has already retired. At first this realisation was hard. I could look at it and think my working life is almost over (although in reality I hope to be working well into my 70s.)
However, the approaching of age 55 has had a different effect on me. I am past the age where I can have any impact on how my main life career is viewed. I am becoming free to feel I can be me. I can take my career in a direction that reflects who I really am.
For a long time, I have hidden behind my intelligence. At secondary school I was regarded as being smart. It was a good defense through the turbulent years of adolescence. In my working life I became more and more involved in Information Technology. Each time I have tried to break away from this over the last few years, something has come up to tempt me back into it.
I realised recently that this is because it is the easy path. In IT I can be recognised for what I do, now for who I am.
I am a man most of the way through the normal range of a working life. People who know me also regard me as having insight and compassion and probably a bit of a dag. These qualities are those I regard as the real me. The me I know “when I’m alone in my bed.”
I really like this me and it is something about my age that allows me to say this.

50 Writing Tools

PoynterOnline has a series of 50 writing tools. I like “These are tools not rules.”
Thanks to Scribblingwoman for the link.

The myth of the heroic leader lives on

It’s old news now that Sol Trujillo is the new CEO of Telstra but we are going to see lots of stories referring to the New Telstra CEO before we’re out.
We’re not doubting that the appointment of a new CEO to Austrlia’s largest corporation is newsworthy. We do wonder however at the miraculous powers vested by various commentators in one man.
Ovum analyst, Rosalie Higson, was quoted in The Austrlian

Sol Trujillo is charismatic and dynamic, and has also demonstrated strong management skills. Most recently, he presided over the rapid and effective integration of Orange into the maw of France Telecom

Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie is quoted on CNN as saying

The Telstra board would expect Trujillo to “drive cultural and organizational change throughout Telstra, enabling the corporation to further embrace a service-driven, customer-focused way of doing business.”

Coupled with his $10m paycheque, there is a lot riding on Mr Trujillo.
Sorry but we just can’t get excited about it. (I gues if we were being offerred the $10m we might get excited about it.) We know it’s too much for corporate Australia to have learnt that one person is only part of a team. Sure as leader they motivate the team and bring the best out of the team. That’s a tough task and it is rightly the leader’s job. But to “drive the vision and culture change”? We know that’s the language and that’s what the board expects of Sol but we’re just a touch skeptical that Telstra has found a superhuman hero.

The wasted generation

It seems the baby boomers are dvidided in their approach to retirement.
That’s the view at least of this BRW article
[Subscription required]. I have to point out that, true to its form, BRW discusses only the
top 10% wealthiest baby boomers. Allowing for that, the trend observed provoke thought.


The article is based largelyby Robert Critchley’s book "Doing
nothing is not an option"
One group of these baby boomers
matches the stereotype of the baby boomer – looking forward to retirment
as soon as possible. Some of them making plans to retire as early as
age 45 and then planning to make no futher contribution to the workforce.
As BRW points out, this is a huge loss of skill from our community.
For some of this group, the retirement is not entirely voluntary. Critchley
makes the believable claim "Recruitment companies won’t interview
people over 45, although they won’t admit it." Australian corporate
culture is entrenched in the adoration of youth and dismissal of experience.

So we are ending up with a large group of skilled and experienced people
over 55 who are lost to the workforce. Some voluntarily and others because
they have been retrenched and can’t find other work.

This is a sad and unfortunae scenario. I can’t imagine retiring. I
hope I keep my health long enought to be still working when I’m 80.
And so I belong to the second group of baby boomers. Those who want
to keep working – but not in traditional 9-5 employment. Rather we are
the portfolio workers who divide our time between paid and voluntary

It’s not that easy to move into a portfolio exsitence though. It takes
a particular type of personality. It’s not for the risk averse. It’s
stressful. It takes the ability to put yourself out there and being
prepared to be rejected. It sounds romantic and luxurious but it is
hard work. I think it’s easy for us risk takers to move into portfolio

For people with a different approach to life, we have to find ways
to encourage them to become involved in different types of work that
provide some form of security but also respect and dignity.

It’s hard for people who have been rejected by the workforce. The answer
lies not only in changing their views but also those of employers and
other organisations – to create varied opportunities for their contribution.

Testing Theory X and Theory Y

Kevin Donnelly tirelessly argues the case that our schools are failing. He
was at it in The Age again recently with
this piece.

Donnelly’s argument basically goes that schools have been taken over by leftist
progressives who are "committed to overthrowing the status quo and turning
students into politically correct new age warriors"
(from “Cannon fodder of the culture wars” ) and not much
about educational standards. Under the influence of these radicals we have brought
up a generation of kids who can’t read or write. (Funny who this generation
of illeterates has produced 40 million odd blogs.)

According to this view, teachers fall into three
categories. The radicals themselves. Those who are too afraid to speak out against
what they know (according to Donnelly and his supporters) is bad teaching. Finally
there are those who are two lazy to care. I suspect Donnelly believes this last
category is the majority.

Read more

Is femminism dead?

All twentieth century movements have outlived their usefulness and are now dead!
At least this is the view of modern conservatives. They have given up trying to argue that trade unions, for instance, never had a place. Their argument is that yes, the workers did need collectivism in the bad old days when the privileged classes were making obscene profits at the expense of the underprivileged members of society. (Hmmm, I wonder what’s changed? I’m sure if we transported the proponents of this view back 100 years, they would be arguing that trade unions will destroy industry.)
Feminism gets the same treatment. Media Girl puts it like this:

And yet the men shake their heads. Feminism is outdated. Feminism is unreasonable. Feminism means man-hating. Women got the right to vote ages ago, so what’s the big deal? Appeal denied.

Yeah sure. Women are equally represented in corporate boardrooms and executive management? Women are equally represented in public office? Women are no longer vastly more likely to be subject to abuse?
These are only the tips of the iceberg in the way we men entrench of privilege and deny opportunities to women. Rather than denying the ongoing need for feminist action:

Maybe some of these self-appointed experts on what is and isn’t good feminism can turn their insightful gaze upon themselves, and explain to us poor hapless females the origins and justifications and reasons for the persistence of male privilege and institutional patriarchy. Media Girl

Unfair unfair dismissal laws

I’m getting more and more fired up about the Australian Governments proposed changes to the workplace realtions laws.
There’s a huge amount of hysteria regarding unfair dismissal laws – especially amongst small business owners. The Age this morning uses business owner, Susan Cannalonga, to argue the case for exemption from unfair dismissal laws. She cites an employee who was coming to work late and leaving early. When challenged the employee fired off a letter of resignation but then changed her mind.
Instead of following through the dismissal process, Cannalonga insisted that the initial resignation stand.
In a similar veing to our recent argument, The Age quotes Monash University associate professor of business and economics as arguing:

“…unfair dismissal is the symptom, not the disease. The disease is human resource management practices in small firms.

I have seen it time and time again in businesses of all sizes but especially small business. Owners and managers refuse to confront the problem. They let the underperforming behaviour go on too long. They don’t discipline the employee and then try to remove them with an excuse. All the while their business suffers and it may well continue to suffer after the employee has left. This because they haven’t considered how their own actions may have contributed to the problem and may be contributing to other cases of underperformance. They also give very little thought to the cost of replacing the employee.
Don’t get me wrong. Small business people do it tough. It’s usually their house that’s mortgaged to the hilt to keep the business running. The owner is the last person to be paid and they keep having to find cash each fortnight for the wages bill and at the end of the year for annual entitlements. They need all the help they can get
However, encouraging them to see their problems in terms of individual underperforming employees is doing them a grave injustice. They need assistance in handling difficult or underperforming staff. Rather than relaxing the unfair dismissal laws, which we argue will end up costing small business more, the government could provide more human resource management support. Perhaps provide grants to small business to engage HR consultants. Run seminars and support groups on HR issues in small business. These are things that could make a real difference to small business.
Don’t expect to see any of these initiatives any time soon in the currrent political climate. We are too busy blaming poorly performing and greedy employees and glorifying business owners.