Transcript: Tasmania Talks with Mike O'Loughlin - COVID-19 vaccinations and wage theft

Excerpts from Tasmania Talks with Mike O'Loughlin - April 7, 2021

MIKE O'LOUGHLIN: Last time we spoke Brian, you were a little concerned about the number of COVID vaccination clinics in Bass & Braddon, which are almost double the amount as in Lyons. Is that still a concern to you?

BRIAN MITCHELL: It’s even worse now. The big concern now, Mike, is the incredibly slow rollout of the vaccination overall. I mean we’re promised four million by the end of march and we’ve missed that target by more than 3.4 million. The government’s making all sorts of excuses about supply and we’re just being told, I think frankly, a pack of lies and people are finding it very hard to find out what’s going on. One of the real concerns in the roadmap for vaccinations – you can’t make head or tails of it – it’s a one page pdf, people don’t know where to go, how to book, it’s just been a complete shambles.

MIKE O'LOUGHLIN: We’re heard from multiple Tasmanian Talks listeners on the NW coast too who are struggling to book an appointment to get the jab. So you’re hearing similar things from your constituents in Lyons?

BRIAN MITCHELL: Oh yes, absolutely. This is the good news – the good news is most people want to get vaccinated, but they just find they can’t get in or they don’t meet the criteria. The government came clean last week and said if you weren’t a patient in one of the clinics that had been chosen, well you’ll just have to wait for the rollout but even with this initial rollout even that’s going really slow. Look, it’s just not going very well and that undermines confidence and the great concern of course is that it could cost lives.

MIKE O'LOUGHLIN: The Tasmanian Health Service has advised us, Brian, to be patient and that everyone will get their jab in time. But I’m thinking the “in time” is the issue, isn’t it?

BRIAN MITCHELL: What the PM did is, he set people up to think that things were going smoothly and nobody forced him to say there would be four million vaccinated by the end of March. He volunteered that information and he hasn’t just missed that target; he’s missed it by a mile. It’s an absolute debacle and its undermined confidence and people now don’t feel confident in the process and so they’ve got a big job ahead of the to try and repair that as well. My message to people is please do be patient, it’s obviously taking a lot longer than what the government said it would but it’s important though that people do get vaccinated when the offer is made.

MIKE O'LOUGHLIN: Do you think regional Tasmanians are getting the same access as metro Tasmanians?

BRIAN MITCHELL: Well that’s a very god question. My gut feeling is no – I don’t think regions are getting the same access. The government say they are but the anecdotal evidence I’m getting says certainly in smaller towns and aged care facilities across Tasmania are not getting that access at all.

MIKE O'LOUGHLIN: You’ve also got some concerns over wage theft. Explain wage theft and what you mean by it.

BRIAN MITCHELL: Wage theft quite simply for me is if a worker is contracted or owed a certain amount of money for labour under an award or VBA then that’s what they should be paid. What we’ve found now is that many employers are not paying that legal wage. That is, in effect, a stealing of those people’s wages. Fair Work did a surprise audit of a bunch of business in southern Tasmania and it was reported last week in the local newspaper in Hobart that they had to recover $600,000 in what is effectively stolen wages. They found that 80% of the audited businesses – and we’re talking local cafes, restaurants, little shops – were not paying workers what they were entitled. Now, I don’t want to put this all down to greedy employers and all that – I think there’s a number of issues here, ignorance, laziness, probably some greed in it as well – but also as well, I know if one employer doesn’t pay their employees the legislated amount, that gives them a competitive advantage over other business, who are doing the right thing and those business doing the right thing find themselves uncompetitive.  They end up thinking “I need to do this too” so we need to pt a stop to this”. People deserve to be paid their legal right to the wages they’ve earned. Workers aren’t doing employers favours – they are working, they are helping employers and business make a profit and they need to be paid their proper legislated wage. I’m very strong on this.

MIKE O'LOUGHLIN: How do (inaudible) find out more if they’re concerned?

BRIAN MITCHELL: I would suggest to every worker out there to join their union. Unions get a bad rap sometimes but they do a terrific job ensuring their members are looked after. I know the general view of a unionist, if you ask most people, is that big fat bloke like me, maybe with an English accent, working on a building site. That’s the typical view of what a unionist looks like but the typical unionist in Tasmania is a 54-year-old woman working in aged care. That’s what a real unionist looks like in Tasmania and what a unionist can do is represent workers in the workplace, make sure people are paid what they’re owed and advocate for employees who find they’ve got an issue with their employer. The last thing that unions and union members want is to go on strike or cause trouble in the workplace. What we all want is a harmonious workplace where everybody does the right thing by each other. Staff and employees have an obligation to one another to work hard for their businesses and employers and employers have an obligation to pay their workers fairly and offer them safe working conditions. When everybody does the right thing, everything works out well.