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The Rae St Institute > Blog archive > On late night rampages, the Workplace Relations Act and losing the way

Damages for breach of AWA

(1) A party to an AWA who suffers loss or damage as a result of a breach of the AWA by the other party may recover the amount of the loss or damage in an eligible court.

(2) The action must be brought within 6 years after the date on which the cause of action arose.

Being that it's the day of the year that it is, I'm going to take advantage of the extra hour provided to us by the Ministry of Faded Curtains and Milk Restrictions to blog some of the three hundred and eighty five things that are possibly noteworthy from the last fortnight..

But before I get onto all that, a good old labour laws / overbearing employers rant. Of course, before I begin, I Am Not A Lawyer and all that, so don't even listen to a word of this
unless you want to be attacked by killer bees ... from space

OK, let's draw the scene here. You work in the old retail grind, selling items of some value (not diamond jewellery, but expensive-ish stuff..). Two guys come in and have a chat to you about one of said products, which you remove from the cabinet. One distracts you for a second while the other reaches behind you into the cabinet and steals something. This pattern is then repeated.

Said retailer has enough surveillance to kill a bear, certainly enough to get a good enough image of the face for the police to go with. Anecdotally the police have a relatively good strike rate in terms of recovering said goods. Now how exactly this works I'm not sure, but the theory in this place was always that if you were to run down to Russell Street and look moderately dodgy-but-cashed-up then you might have some luck.. though it's of course more complicated than that.

Anyway, aftermath of said thievin' begins with the fact that the shop, bristling with staff, didn't notice the two missing items for about, oh, A WHOLE DAY.. and then the friend of mine who happened to be the unfortunate target of said thieves became the last person to know about it. Including, importantly, the last person to be told that the book would be thrown at them, or something would explode, you know, wailing children, entire battallions of heavily armed lawyers riding on APCs down Lonsdale Street saluting giant portraits of the management, burning cadillacs filled with the corpses of everyone you know, salt sowed in your fields, all your cattle shot, meaningless tortures and Barry Manilow.. as some kind of retribution. And she only heard about it because co-workers rang her and told her they'd been told of the brewing storm clouds.

The first "officially" that she heard of being in trouble was when she was asked to go see the HR person.. who asked her to sign a warning. Fair enough, you know, maybe a little more diligence was required, point taken.

And then after the warning was signed, HR person asked her to sign an agreement for her employer to dock $1000 out of her wages... Including a clause that if she resigned, she'd have to pay them out.

This is where this little tale comes grinding to a halt, and lurches off in another direction.

Now I'm the sort of guy who people ring with weird questions, or to find out something obscure, or to track down something, or work something out. Years at uni combined with rampant insomnia and a Cliff-from-Cheers-esque memory stuffed with useless information
Someone I hadn't heard from for a while texted me last week to find out how many nipples a rat has. I knew the answer.
mean that there's a reasonable chance I might know it, but if I don't I know how to find out, or who to ring who would know.. I'm generally not too bad with this kind of thing. And I have the tendency to go all paralegal on yo' ass' if you fuck with my friends, too (time permitting), so in this case a chance bump into friend concerned led her to tell me the story, and me to ring a lawyer mate for guidance.

The first reaction everyone has is "wrong! wrong! they can't do that!".. even my lawyer friend.

The thing though, as the quote above tells, is that they can.. sort of. The "in an eligible court" thing is HIGHLY relevant. While what these guys were asking for morally is really fucked up (to demand $1000 from a lowly paid student in your employ is pure Scrooge material), the law actually allows them to do it (contingent on a bunch of things, but still...). -- On further thinking about it my friend told me that he actually remembered a section in the Workplace Relations Act relating to it, so I went and looked it up, found out what I could, passed a summary of everything back to him, he offered to look into it, but needed original documents, so back and forth.. my friend had to ask Place Of Employ for a copy of the warning she'd signed, and her original contract. I told her to tell employer that it was being looked into and not to sign anything under any circumstances..

Funnily enough, it took them an entire day to not get around to finding either document. The original contract is fair enough, because that's probably filed away somewhere, but the warning? It was only a few days old. At least in the filing system in my office (Recent documents on top of the pile, pile cleaned when I can't see the desk surface anymore..) it'd still be there.

An employer that makes demands for arbitrary payments from employees (the items were valued at more than $1000, and the whole thing was played as "oh, just consider yourself lucky we're not asking for the whole amount"), uses intimidatory tactics (read previous), and then won't provide copies of signed documents is starting to smell somewhat completely dodgy.

And at the end of the day concerned, a request was made for my friend to go to the office of one of the owners. As I understand it, some shouting ensued. Another strike against Employer were they to follow this up "in an eligible court"; demanding money from someone, then yelling at them because they've declined to sign the paper saying they'll pay it before they've had it properly investigated is out and out intimidation and looks bad in any light.

So it's starting to look like a proper legal stoush is in the works, you know, people on the stand reduced to tears, loads of dudes with briefcases, maybe even a chase scene involving someone in an expensive suit jumping out a fifth storey window into a dumpster...

And then they backed down.

Yep, they backed down.

Maybe they didn't want to take it to court; maybe a flash of common sense came across them (like so much bad innuendo); maybe they considered what would happen to staff morale if they sued one of their employees because professional thieves had been at work..

Whatever it was, they backed down, and all she in essence needed to do was stand her ground.

OK, so the whole Paralegal thing ended up being not that useful, my lawyer mate didn't get called in to write any scary letters, nobody got sued (nothing even caught fire).

But it's a useful little story nonetheless; for me the morals are:
  • If you're an employer, don't fuck with your employees. They might know lawyers, and you might be in the wrong -- my experience of small employers is that most don't really know the limits of their rights that well, some just assume that if they yell loudly enough they'll get what they're asking for, no matter how unreasonable.
  • Never Sign Anything.
  • Ok, so sign things from time to time, but if you're going to sign something and you even have the slightest miniscule inkling of a doubt, get it checked out first.
  • And if you do sign anything, make sure there are two copies of it in front of you before pen touches paper. Relying on employers to 'retrieve' documents for you is slow, unreliable, and gives them the chance to 'lose' things that could prove incriminating for them if they're in the category that don't know how much they can legally get away with.
  • ... but lawyers are expensive; these are the situations where unions are great, but the military-entertainment complex and the government have done such a bang-up job of discrediting them in the eyes of the 'mainstream' that too many places basically keep unions out and nobody notices or cares.
  • Stand your ground. Energy spent by your employer yelling at you is energy no longer available for actual fighting. The fact that your employer's yelling at you often means they don't really have a leg to stand on, but just want to bully you into accepting their terms.
  • And a further thought.. I'm led to believe that the employer in this case received advice at some point from an employers' organisation.. Morally shouldn't any employer that's a member of an employers' organisation at least encourage its employees to be members of a union? Why should the bosses get a support structure for these situations, but employees have to rely on favours, friends, or forking out cash to get advice?
OK, so to try to avoid this being the Dryest. Blog. Post. Ever, here's some pretty pictures from earlier this fine evening:

Not bad for handheld, at midnight, by moonlight..

... hints of the old Pomo trope of urban decay, and my obsession with stupidly low light photography.

Rode the bike from Eltham to the Institute tonight along the Yarra, in the full moon light and the fog. Saw more rabbits than I've ever seen in my life.. made me ask myself stupid idle questions about the whole Easter thing (which I subscribe to on the same fee structure as my subscription to Modern Topiary).. and asked myself questions about the inevitability of human drama.

I've been meeting some cool people lately. Here and there.. I'm in a moderately edgy mood, too, so I'm not sure how that works, but hey.. though the fact that Critical Mass happened twice this month probably has something to do with it (the meeting cool people thing, not the edgy thing). But then so does the recent habit of going out drinking three-four nights a week and running moderately amok. In fact nights in general lately have been worthy of note for various reasons.

Y'know, those nights where it's 1am, you're in a Taxi, heading to the city with a couple of mates, and then someone turns the recorder off, and a couple of frames later it's 8am, and you're back at home in bed.

No idea what happened, no idea where you went, and nobody who was with you can remember either. Alien abductions perhaps? The Easter Bunny and assorted Topiary-obsessed minions with mind control rays and teleportation helmets?

Or those nights where it's 6pm, you're planning a mind-blowingly exciting evening of reheated pasta and bed, then a crew of people come past and knock on the door and you end up going to the pub for a few.. then end up at Bar Open seeing the surprisingly cool Shemozzle which pretty much everyone else with you hates.. then the Easter Bunny-Topiary-Teleportation cartel strikes again and before you know it you're laying on your back in the middle of the football oval at Edinburgh Gardens staring at the sky entangled with some amazingly attractive girl with a cool accent wondering how the hell it all happened.

Maybe those nights where you're at St Jerome's, staring at the sky and talking to someone about some stupid Japanese phrase you learnt in year 11, and there's a gaggle of cool people, some clusters of plastikhumans, and a bunch of people who haven't yet been categorised by management, and a friend you feel like you owe $200 (but you actually don't) is texting you about how someone is trying to steal their stuff..

Or those nights when you realise you're blogging and you should really be at least trying to sleep and the blogging's spiralled out of control anyway, and nobody will read this far down because you started with a dry political-legal-thing so by this point you could in fact just launch into complete gibberish..

But that'd be redundant. And the point of this sequence of vignettes is well and truly lost now anyway.

1 Comment - [post a comment]

Brownie, Monday, April 4, 2005, 7:10 AM
. . .I read all the way down . .