|Issue No. 156
|11 October 2002
Work and the Meaning of Life
Interview: The Wet One
Bad Boss: Like A Bastard
Unions: Demolition Derby
Corporate: The Bush Doctrine
Politics: American Jihad
Health: Secret Country
Review: Walking On Water
Poetry: The UQ Stonewall
Month In Review
The Locker Room
Direct Voting Rights
Iraq is a Gobalisation Issue Too
Letter to George Dubya
WTO and Schools
Work and the Meaning of Life
While the images of a young Muslim man in traditional dress taking a stand for his right to observe his religion makes great media, the issue of how much of one's life should be sacrificed for a job is much broader.
The manager at TPG, whose intransigence created this week's storm is just the worst case of management, freed of the constraints of the central wage system, acting as if they have some sort of divine right to rule their workforce.
We've heard the arguments on how enlightened companies are providing family friendly policies like workplace-based child care, extended parental leave and home work.
Conservative politicians may be happy to shine a light on the companies - typically in the profit-bloated finance sector - that embark on these programs, but talk of compulsion gets short shrift.
That's why the Prime Minister will not even countenance a right to paid maternity leave. One could only imagine his attitude to enshrining a Muslim's rights to pray.
At the heart of this debate is the question of the very nature of work and whether it exists separate to or integrated with the rest of one's life.
The traditional position has been that the eight hours of work was a separate chunk of life - it was governed by individual rules that treated all workers the same.
That position was trashed by labour market deregulation, with its assertion that businesses should be judged on their own special circumstances and not be bound by universal rules.
Unions and their members have played their part, accepting enterprise bargaining and embracing new rules of employment in the interest of creating stable and secure jobs.
But employers are now being asked to come to the party and make good their flexibility rhetoric - taking the same principles that justified special deals for enterprises, to their employees.
In Kamal's case the issue seems a no-brainer. He was prepared tot take ten minutes off his lunch break to pray in the afternoon. No loss of productivity and less time away from his desk than the average smoker.
The rejection of this deal is a breaking of this supposed consensus where employer and employee are equal agents, who can sit down and negotiate fair outcomes between themselves.
Of course, that's always been crap and without a union - that much-denigrated 'third party' - beside him, Kamal would by now be looking for a new job.
This is not an issue about race or religion; it is a story of management prerogative and a worker prepared to stand up for his basic rights to be the person he is while at work.
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