Muffin Break comments leave a bad taste

It was heartening to see Australians still have a visceral reaction to the idea of exploited workers (The outrage at Muffin Break general manager misses the point).

When the General Manager of Muffin Break Natalie Brennan said she was upset because there are fewer young workers offering to work for free just to get a foot in the door – people didn’t miss the point at all.

 I think Australians have such an ingrained idea of the “fair go” that the concept of workers having to bid against each as to how much labour they can give away upfront is not a fair system.

We have started to hear this a lot from Australian employers. The youngest generation of workers is “entitled”, “lazy” and not sufficiently grateful or appreciative.

Bad taste after Muffin Break boss comments

We hear that workers aren’t as good as they used to be. Well, putting to the side the fact that worker productivity in Australia has increased by leaps and bounds over the past few decades, far in excess of any wage increases given, I have news for employers— you aren’t as good as you used to be either. You started it first and young workers are only doing what it takes to survive.

 Young workers live in a time in which buying a home isn’t the great Australian dream—it is only a dream. They have come into a workforce in which fewer than half of Australia’s workers have full-time, secure jobs with full sick and leave entitlements. They live in a world of high casual employment, reduced penalty rates, attacks on unions and record low wage growth.

Ms Brennan says that offering your labour for free to get in front of other workers makes you “passionate.” This is demonstrably false.

For young Australians who live at home well into their 20s, giving away labour may be a possibility. With no rent, food or utility bills to pay they can afford to give their time away. But the young Australian who left home at 17 because of no fault of their own, is studying part-time and working; the young parents who are responsible for a life other than their own; these people cannot give their labour away for free. Are they necessarily less passionate? Of course not!

So I am not surprised that people were outraged that Ms Brennan expressed her disgust at “entitled” young Australians while simultaneously expressing her entitlement to use free labour as part of her hiring process. We can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

“In essence they’re working for free, but I can tell you every single person who has knocked on my door for an internship or work experience has ended up with a job,” Ms Brennan said. 

You should have stopped at “working for free”, because that just isn’t on in Australia. Tell me, do you pay them back the time they gave if they get the job?

We see this mentality with the LNP’s slave-labour PaTH program, which pays businesses $10,000 to have young Australians work for them for free, while the worker only gets $4 per hour. This is with no commitment to hire the worker afterwards, and in fact, fewer than half of PaTH internships resulted in a job throughout 2018.

But Ms Brennan doesn’t stop there. She is also appalled at the entitlement of one worker, who when Ms Brennan went on leave, asked for more money after “looking after the department while she was gone.”

It is amazing how two people can look at the same event and see two entirely different things. Ms Brennan sees an ungrateful and entitled employee. I see a worker who asked for an additional amount for performing higher duties—as described in most Awards. It is the right of every worker to be paid according to the work they do.

Defences of Ms Brennan have been decidedly tone-deaf, with Frank Chung of news.com.au suggesting that people disgusted by exploited workers are “missing the point”.

He makes Ms Brennan’s entitlement clear:

“She never said she expected all of her employees to work for free, as many online seem to be suggesting, only that those who put themselves forward to do unpaid work were more likely to get a job.”

Let me say it again. The ability to give your time away for free is no real indication of an individual’s merit, capability or even passion. It is just another chance for business to get something for nothing.

No Frank. We didn’t miss the point. It is not entitlement to believe you shouldn’t have to give your labour away just to have a chance in the workplace. It is not entitlement to ask to be paid correctly. And what is entitlement is employers expecting workers to give away so much of themselves upfront while continuously inventing new ways to pay workers as little as possible. That is entitlement and people commenting knew that.

Ros McLennan, General Secretary, Queensland Council of Unions

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