The Guardian 19 October, 2005

The future under Howard — you’re sacked

The entire workforce of one of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices hotlines has learned first-hand about the future of job security, after being told not to turn up to work next week. About 50 labour- hire workers at the Artarmon call centre, in Sydney’s northern suburbs, employed on one-week contracts, received the news, last Friday, after getting only a handful of calls during the week.

The Sydney centre, established for overflow calls, had not received the traffic anticipated, despite the wall of advertising promoting the number.

It is unknown whether the other two centres in Canberra and Melbourne will continue to operate. The lay-offs follow a week of confusion where the majority of callers were told to wait until the legislation came out.

Workers Online of Unions NSW called with enquiries about unfair dismissal, penalty rates and unlawful dismissal under the new changes and in all instances was referred to the award inquiry service WageLine.

WageLine could not answer questions about the proposed reforms.

"We can only give advice on current federal awards", the hotline said.

Operators at WorkChoices admitted they did not have enough detail to handle enquiries.

"At this stage we don’t have too much information; it’s still going through Parliament", one WorkChoices operator said.

The response from other operators was that the reforms were "just proposed" and wouldn’t be coming through for six months.

The government has set up three call centres to deal with questions as part of its $100 million taxpayer funded campaign to sell its unpopular changes. WorkChoices operators are given scripted answers to questions and cannot answer any further questions.

Unions NSW Secretary John Robertson said despite appearances, the Government continued to dodge people’s genuine questions about the reforms.

"What were seeing here is the government spending money that isn’t theirs on call centres and ads that provide no real information on their changes", Robertson said.

"It’s about time they came clean and told working people that these laws are simply the agenda of big business."

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