Report on behalf of the AUSIT National Pay and Conditions sub-committee - September 2005 by Yveline Piller, Chair of National Pay and Conditions sub-committee The year just past has proved both challenging and fruitful in unexpected ways. The number of members who actively contributed to P & C work is small but they can justifiably be proud of the major studies and submissions produced on the working conditions in the profession. Major achievements The first AUSIT submission was a response to the Federal Parliament enquiry into independent contracting and labour hire, which presented the topic from the angle that ‘[…] election policies included creating a new Independent Contractors Act to protect 1 the status of independent contractors and protect them from unnecessary regulation by workplace relations laws’. We felt it was important to show the reality of contracting when, in their need to earn an income, contractors get caught with little power to balance the demand side of the market. As a result of this submission, Vivian Stevenson and I spoke before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation in a public hearing whose minutes were published. Another submission was made to the Workplace Relations Legal Group Department of Employment & Workplace Relations in response to the Discussion Paper titled Proposals for legislative reforms in independent contracting and labour hire arrangements. Finally, AUSIT is preparing to publish Fair Pay for Interpreters, a groundbreaking analysis by John Gare. This work, which comes with an easy-to-use fee calculator, proposes a well-reasoned method of calculating fees for translators and interpreters in our environment and highlights the dramatic gap in perceptions of earnings with today's reality, particularly in community interpreting. These works are accessible on our website www.ausit.org. Other support As reported in the regular Pay and Conditions feature of previous AUSIT newsletters, I investigated a number of avenues for giving more strength to individual practitioners and which provided other useful information. These avenues included: - requirements for the creation of a registered organisation (union); - requirements to obtain an ACCC authorisation, which in limited circumstances can allow the setting of fees and group negotiations for contractors; - back-payments of hours by the NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC); - a review of the award in NSW being planned by the CRC; - the existence of a directive from the NSW Premier regarding the conditions of employment or contracting for T & I by government bodies; - an ATO ruling regarding superannuation guarantee for persons engaged under a labour contract. Challenges In an environment where contracts are the norm, awards don't apply: unions cannot represent contractors, the professional association cannot issue directives on fees or on the signing of 1 My italics contracts, and the Trade Practices Act prevents collusion. Each person is supposed to behave as a small business or a self-standing unit capable of negotiating and having access to a range of alternatives. With a strong imbalance in market forces, especially in the community interpreting sector, the reality is otherwise. Yet even when conditions change in a way that can only be detrimental to practitioners, such as reduced fees or loss of super payments, very few practitioners approach us for support or even to complain. Even fewer are ready to provide enough information, such as contracts, details of issues etc., for AUSIT to make representations. Formalising the structure of the Subcommittee in line with the motion passed in Canberra proved impracticable. The commitment required in time and effort was beyond the means of volunteers. I explored several other avenues to find external support, all of which were either unavailable or far too costly. Some help was provided by the ASU who reviewed a range of T & I contracts forwarded by us, to help determine the status of Interpreters and Translators who are bound by them. An AUSIT database of these contracts has been started to ensure relevant material is available when needed to address the next P & C issue. Similarly, in South Australia, where interpreters' remuneration is possibly the lowest in the country, branch members have finally been able to get support from the Public Service Association of SA in their on-going fight for the fees they were promised and other conditions. Looking ahead The Chair of the Pay and Conditions subcommittee is by definition the next National President of AUSIT, who will be appointed on 29 October. On the basis of the experience acquired in the last two years, I would like to make some recommendations. For effective action in the P & C field, AUSIT needs a strong mandate and solid facts. Perhaps it is a two-way street: more practitioners might signal their wish to be represented if they know there is an avenue open to them. To facilitate contact between AUSIT and those practitioners, I’d like to propose that a telephone line be established and advertised widely, where practitioners could call in full confidence and report the P & C issues they want assistance with. This would bring practitioners closer to AUSIT. Since volunteer work is not a reliable option, staff would be required to take the calls and organise follow-up action. The job would be advertised throughout AUSIT and other sources if necessary. This would require a specific budget which would need to be recouped through membership fee increases of approximately $20 per member to ensure sustainability. All members could help by publicising the existence of this new Help Line amongst practitioners and by making sure that they use it when they require assistance with P & C issues. Whether the next National Council develops this idea to completion will depend on the amount of support it gains amongst the membership. To express support or otherwise, members are invited to use the eBulletin, contact administrators, or email AUSIT. Finally, as this is the end of my term of office as Chair of the National Pay and Conditions sub-committee, I'd like to express my sincere thanks and best wishes to the members who have provided their help, presence and support in P & C issues over the last two years.