Since the end of last year, I have been working at a shop where all the employees, including myself, have been getting paid under the award rate. Unfortunately, we are not a unionised shop so it’s very difficult to take collective action. I took on the position as I needed a job to get me through Christmas but due to the economic climate I have been finding it difficult to gain alternative employment.
My situation had been playing on my conscience for months and finally I got up the courage to ask my employer for award pay. The result was that my hours were substantially cut but I am now getting paid the award, unlike my colleagues.
There comes a time when you have to decide whether the benefits of a situation outweigh the costs. There was a cost to me standing up for what I thought was right but I feel better within myself for taking a stand. Unfortunately, my co-workers didn’t follow suit but that it a decision they have to make for themselves.
When I hear about whistle blowers like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, I know there has been a substantial cost to their actions. They would have many motivations but one would be a conscious decision about what they believe to be right and wrong. Are they saboteurs, traitors and snitches or are they heroes, saviours, revolutionaries and brave hearts? Our answer to this question will depend on our view of what is right and wrong for ourselves, our nation, our people and the world at large.
Every day we make decisions about what is right or wrong. Do I buy clothes from Bangladesh when I know workers are labouring in dangerous conditions and are being exploited? Do I buy an iPad when I know workers in Chinese factories are committing suicide and getting paid around $1 a day? Do I buy blood diamonds from Africa? Or do I take a stand and say this is not good enough? I would rather pay more for a product and know that the workers who make it are being looked after, respected and properly remunerated for their efforts.
In its heyday, the textile industry in Australia employed about 250,000 workers. Now the industry employs around 50,000 people. We may be buying our clothes cheaper but there are costs to our consumer choices. Likewise, our car industry is dwindling. Similar occurrences are happening in other Western countries as we move to a globalised economy and create a proletariat in the ThirdWorld. To make our economies more competitive we should be demanding better pay and conditions for overseas workers and buying goods made in our own country. We should not be compromising our standard of living but rather pushing for better standards in Third World nations. We should say no to companies that take jobs offshore, no to companies that won’t sign workplace health and safety agreements in their contracts with foreign suppliers and no to local employers that exploit local residents, immigrant workers and students.
We need to look at the big picture rather than just looking in our purse today, for if we pay just a little more we could be saving the job of our neighbour and paying less social security tax to prop them up.
So when someone is a whistle blower or is taking a stand, think about the big picture before you judge them. Try to understand their possible motivation. You may not agree with them but they are doing what they think is right and just.
“Green Whistle Blowing” by Steven Depolo. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.