Revisiting the sociology of work

I am always surprised how few people who talk about workplace and safety cultures seem not to have read the great sociologists of culture. Raymond Williams was important when I studied sociology and literature at university in the 1980s. I was reminded of his importance by this article in Catalyst.

As neoliberalism experiences a decline in influence on governments and corporations, it is useful to look at the sociology of culture from the pre-neoliberalism days, even if only dipping into my bookshelves. The Catalyst article opens with this:

“Raymond Williams hasn’t survived the cultural turn intact. Even though he was instrumental in foregrounding the significance of culture in human affairs, his materialist methodology and commitment to socialism jarred against the textualism and cultural relativism of the last three decades. The rise of neoliberalism had an effect as well. It undercut the values of cooperation and solidarity that were key to postwar radical intellectuals like Williams. But a Williams revival is finally underway.”

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The wicked problem of the safety of shearers and the viability of sheep farming

Shearing sheep is an exhausting laborious job and so can cause work-related injuries for which workers’ compensation can be sought. The Weekly Times on January 4 2023 (paywalled) devoted a whole page to the issue in an article headlined “The shear cost of it all”. (Only a companion piece is available online at the time of writing)

The aim of the article seems to be to illustrate the exorbitant and unfair workers’ compensation costs faced by the employers of shearers, but some relevant occupational health and safety (OHS) matters are overlooked.

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Serious questions about WorkSafe Victoria’s financial sustainability

Shortly after Christmas 2022, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) released an article about the financial status of the Victorian Workcover Authority. The article was about a 2020 review of the financial sustainability of the workers’ compensation scheme by insurance and actuarial firm, Finity. This was built upon in a couple of mainstream newspapers.

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Old working hours concepts persist as subtext in new debates

One of the most contentious occupational health and safety (OHS) elements of industrial relations negotiations is the issue of working hours. And one of the most effective ways to prevent physical and psychological harm is by talking about working hours. The evidence for harm from excessive and often unpaid hours is clear, but some assumptions crop up in the debate every so often.

Two recent books, one by David Graeber & David Wengrow and another by Daniel Susskind, offer reminders of these issues and are useful adjuncts to the Australian research on precarious work by Michael Quinlan, Phillip Bohle and others. ( A Guardian review of Graeber & Wengrow is available here with one from The Atlantic here, Susskind here and here)

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Dan Andrews and “safe jobs” and People versus Profit

“Jobs” is a term regularly used in election campaigns as creating jobs can provide wealth directly to those working and less directly to their employers. But rarely are “safe jobs” mentioned.  The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews mentioned “safe jobs” in his campaign speech for the election later this month.  Perhaps more interesting is his pledge to put people before profit.

Andrews was speaking of his success in creating 600,000 jobs since he came to power eight years ago.  He said:

“…..when we came to government, we promised we’d get Victoria back to work. Since then, we’ve created nearly 600,000 jobs. More than 300,000 since September 2020. But it’s not just jobs. We want them to be good, secure, safe jobs. It’s why we introduced Australia’s first-ever wage theft laws. And it’s why we made workplace manslaughter exactly what it is: a crime. But when it comes to making Victoria stronger, safer and fairer, our work is far from over.”

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It looks like OHS does not matter to the government

One of Australia’s Budget documents, released this week, that should be very relevant to occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates is Budget Statement 4, which is called “Measuring What Matters Statement”.  This discusses the measurement of budget decisions compared to a tweaked version of the OECD Framework for Measuring Well-being and Progress.

One of the most disappointing statements in this paper is on page 138:

“Australia does not have an overarching progress and well-being national framework or centralised set of indicators.”

page 138
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Pressure on local government over procurement and OHS

On a chilly night in Ballarat, over a hundred people gathered outside the Town Hall, within which the City Council was meeting, to let the Council know that the awarding of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money to a local company that admitted to breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) laws and that led to the deaths of two local workers was not acceptable.

The event seem coordinated by the local Trades Hall Council, for the usual inflatable rat and fat cat were next to the ute, which was blasting out protest songs. Almost all the speakers were trade unionists, although one was Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. The protest may not have achieved the changes that many speakers called for, but as is the case with these types of events, Council has given some ground with a likely review of the OHS procurement criteria.

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