Public servants told to pay the office power bills

The ABS is keen to use the work-from-home arrangements to reduce the amount of costly office space it occupies around Australia, Photo: istock photos More public service newsCommonwealth eyes space in high-tech Nishi building

Hundreds of Bureau of Statistics public servants are to be sent home with a laptop as the bureau pursues a plan to provide desks for only 80 per cent of its workforce.

But there’s a catch.

The “teleworking agreement” has a clause forcing workers to pay all the costs of their arrangement including power, phone, internet, water and gas.

The ABS, which is keen to use the work-from-home arrangements to reduce the amount of costly office space it occupies around Australia, says its public servants can simply claim those costs back at tax time.

The bureau also says that no-one will be forced to go home to work and that workers can choose the arrangement that suits them best.

But insiders are unhappy, grumbling that the bureau is outsourcing its costs to its own workers.

The bureau says it is moving to an “activity based working setup” which, it says, will relieve it of the burden of paying for desks sitting empty while workers are away from the office.

Unused office space is a problem across the federal government with taxpayers paying for about 34,000 work stations which are sitting idle in about 500 buildings around Australia.

Now, ABS bosses have calculated that they only need to provide enough desks to seat 80 per cent of its employees.

The  bureau had about 2800 public servants on its books as of June 2015, meaning that up to 560 public of its employees could be on teleworking arrangements at any given time.

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To be able to work from home, an employee must sign a 12-page teleworking agreement and it is the following clause that is causing consternation in the ranks.

“I agree that the costs of home based utilities such as electricity, water or gas, internet service provider and or phone provider are to be met by me, not by the ABS,” the agreement reads.

But a spokesman defended the arrangement, saying workers would be given all the support they needed to work from home.

“The ABS provides (and maintains) the equipment and supplies needed to telework, including a laptop,” the spokesman said.

“We don’t reimburse utility expenses.

“The appropriate proportion of these types of expenses may be claimed as a tax deduction.

“Employees opt in to teleworking arrangements themselves, so it’s up to the employee to decide whether or not to telework, taking into account the costs and benefits to them.”

The spokesman went on to say that the bureau was moving to a hot desking set-up to make more cost-effective use of its office space.

“Progressively, we have been moving our office space to an activity based working set-up, mainly as leases are renewed,” he said.

“This entails reducing our traditionally required space and workstation numbers by 20 per cent  in recognition of the fact that on any given day a significant proportion of our staff are not in the office…and therefore we don’t need to have desks for every single staff member.

“As part of activity based work, we use the released space for other work environments, including quiet zones, open plan meeting and collaborative spaces, and improved video conferencing rooms.

“The combination of teleworking, activity based working, and spare space, particularly in Canberra, has allowed us to bring a lot of the Census functions this time around into existing leased spaces across the existing ABS property portfolio, to save money on lease costs.”

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It has been a short but wild ride for Arrium chairman Jerry Maycock

Jerry Charles Roy Maycock has had a rather eventful 16 months since taking over from Peter Smedley as chairman of steel merchant, Arrium.​

He probably twigged to the fact it might be a bit of a wild ride in September 2014 when Smedley, his then chairman, announced a highly dilutive $754 million capital-raising at 48¢ a share.

Maycock celebrated after joining the board just weeks earlier by acquiring 250,000 shares at 76.4c each. Welcome aboard Jerry.

His fellow investors were not impressed either, they sent the stock to a low of 40c and left Arrium’s underwriter, UBS, holding the can on a lot of stock that investors refused to touch.

It was not the only area where he was shaded by his predecessor, Smedley.

As Maycock told his rather disgruntled investors at last year’s AGM, which marked his first anniversary in the chair, he took a 14 per cent pay cut compared to Smedley’s $495,000 annual fee.

And it is safe to assume that even this reduced pay will not be lasting much longer.

Not that Maycock appeared to be envisioning such a scenario when addressing Arrium’s shareholder meeting last November.

“I believe the company has responded appropriately and with speed to the changed external environment, and I expect the benefits of this to be reflected in the 2016 financial year,” said Maycock.

But to be fair, as Maycock said to his fellow investors, prior to his appointment as a director in August 2014 “it was widely regarded that the iron ore prices would not fall below $US100 a tonne on a sustained basis.”

Not even our local banks, owed $1 billion between them, entertained the prospect of iron ore prices at less than half that level.

This is why they did not secure the loans they gave Arrium and will be in a world of pain when this little fiasco reaches a conclusion. Bradken who?

Speaking of Arrium.

ASX-listed engineer, Bradken, has enough on its plate without being dragged into other people’s messes.

So you can understand why the loss-making group, which has watched its share price plunge thanks to its exposure to the mining downturn, was keen to advise its “customers, suppliers and shareholders that it has no affiliation or association with the company Bradken Consolidated Pty Ltd, which has been identified as an associate entity of Arrium Ltd.”

Arrium’s administrators returned the favour by confirming the Bradken announcement some hours later.

Bradken has just finished a cleanout of its executive suite, with chairman – The Hon. Nicholas Frank Hugo Greiner, AC stepping down after last year’s AGM which recorded a first strike against its remuneration report.

The company’s CEO, Brian Hodges, stepped down in December.  Reno Nine

We are told that fortune favours the brave, so let’s hope that CSR chief financial officer, Greg Barnes, gets his just rewards as he swaps the building products group, with a market cap of $1.6 billion, for the sub-$1 billion Nine Entertainment.

In building parlance, Nine is definitely in fixer-upper territory, having listed not much more than two years ago with a market value of $1.9 billion.

Did seven years of consecutive earnings growth from the building boom grow a little boring for our bean counter, or can we take his departure as a sign that the best is behind our building stocks?

Barnes’ July start date means that Nine will have gone four months without a permanent CFO.

It is a blessing for Nine’s former head number cruncher, Simon Kelly, who departed last month, not at the end of May as first announced, and had the good fortune to avoid a second shock earnings downgrade in less than a year.

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WPP’s FutureTrack to ask the tough questions

WPP AUNZ chief strategy officer Rose Herceg will run FutureTrack. Photo: Daniel MunozWPP AUNZ chief strategy officer Rose Herceg wants to get under consumers’ skins with the launch of  a new data and predictions business to help the newly merged group win new clients.

The new business, FutureTrack, will be headed by Ms Herceg who has written the questions for a survey that will feature 1000 Australians each month undertaken by WPP’s AMR Group.

The survey asks respondents a range of questions including basic ones on Australia and where the country is headed, as well as tough, moral questions such as: “If knew your child was not your child a year after birth and the hospital accidently swapped your child, would you want your original child back?” and “Do you think Australia is more racist than it was five years ago?”

The collected data is then cut against 82 big brands, including telecommunications companies, airlines, retailers and banks.

“We can highlight specific differences between brand A and brand B. If I use airline example, we can, and have proven, that airline A customers have a very traditional approach to life, are enjoying the status quo, think the country is moving in the right direction, have a very static view of the future and don’t want a lot to change,” Ms Herceg said.

“If we compared that against airline B customers, they see dramatic changes for the future.”

Ms Herceg, founder of social forecaster PopHouse, which she sold to STW in 2006, said she was trying to create research to give WPP businesses an edge over competitors.

“Giving them something that the client, or the potential client, has not heard before, that’s my job in a nutshell,” she told Fairfax Media.

FutureTrack has now completed its third month of research and will begin taking its findings to clients to help WPP pitch for business.

Ms Herceg said having better profiles of consumers would allow WPP to suggest changes in strategies for brands consolidating and adding new customers.

Last Monday, STW Communications shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of merging with the local operations of Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP Group.

The merger of the two operations has created a business with revenues of almost $850 million.

The deal had been a long time coming. The two companies have partnered in businesses since 1998 when they formed Singleton, Ogilvy and Mather; and WPP, before the deal, was STW’s largest shareholder with 23.6 per cent held by a subsidiary, Cavendish Square.

The change of name from STW to WPP AUNZ is subject to shareholder approval at the company’s annual general meeting in May.

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Ten aims for ‘broadcast experience’ on digital video

The Project, featuring Waleed Aly, one of many shows on Network Ten’s tenplay service. Digital video has been plagued by how advertising interrupts the content viewers are there to watch by adding extra load times and pause. Photo: SuppliedTen Network will extend a deal with US-listed Brightcove to trial anti-ad-blocking and server-side video-insertion technology across its online video services.

Brightcove’s Once technology combats ad-blockers by stitching advertisements within the existing video so that ad-blockers cannot tell the difference between the content – which is done before the video is sent from the server to the viewing device.

It also aims to eliminate the pause and buffering between digital video ads and the programming viewers are watching.

Ad-blocking is a growing issue for media companies. Use of the technology soaring over the last three years with around 200 million people now estimated globally to be using ad-blocking technology.

Ten, which began working with the Boston-headquarter Brightcove in 2013, has been experimenting with the Once technology and using it across Apple TV, Xbox, Sony Bravia and Telstra TV.

The new trial will extend that to web pages for tenplay and online video; however, it is still not being used on iOS and Android devices.

“It delivers a superior user experience. It’s all about trying to make the user experience as close to a broadcast experience as we can,” Network Ten general manager of digital Liz Baldwin told Fairfax Media. Ad-block users blocked

Nine Entertainment is also considering using server-side video-insertion technology, but at this stage is stopping users of ad-blockers from viewing their online videos.

“We will move there soon. What we have been doing is interrupt the ad-blockers,” Nine Entertainment chief digital and marketing officer Alex Parsons.

“We focus in on is having ads which aren’t too instructive, ads that don’t get in front of the content.”

Both Nine and Seven West Media’s Yahoo7 use Brightcove for its online video cloud services, but are not using its Once software for server-side video ad insertion.

In the 12 months to August, ad-blocking use increased 41 per cent across the world and in 2015 is estimated to have cost publishers $US22 billion, according to PageFair.

Apple’s decision in September last year to allow third-party ad-blockers on its iOS mobile operating has seen a explosion in the use of such technologies, with hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads now able to block advertising.

Ad-blocking is estimated to have around an 18 per cent penetration rate in Australia, higher than the United States, which is at 15 per cent.

Brightcove Australia and New Zealand managing director Mark Stanton said ad-blocking is a significant and growing issue.

“It does vary depending on the demographic … content that is skewed to a younger male audience can see higher rates of ad-blocking.”

He said that digital video has been “plagued” by how advertising interrupts the content viewers are there to watch by adding extra load times and pause.

“With products like tenplay, it’s not cat videos, this is premium content. But until now it’s really not been a premium experience on the advertising side,” Mr Stanton said.

“We fetch the ads from each of the advertisers and what we return down to the device is a single piece of media and includes both the ad and the content.”

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‘This is happening in Australia’: Sydney victim of slavery speaks out

Susan was enslaved upon arrival at her new ‘job’ in Sydney. She eventually escaped and went into Salvation Army care. Photo: Peter RaeThere was one job that Susan* was exempt from in her long days of cleaning, washing and child care, and that was taking the bins out for rubbish collections.

Afraid the east African housekeeper would be seen, her employer wheeled the bins onto the suburban Sydney street each week, while the woman remained behind closed doors.

Slavery occurs on a spectrum of exploitation near which Susan never dreamt to find herself. Yet, for about two months from the end of 2009, the domestic worker, then in her early thirties, claims to have been enslaved by an employer she trusted and with a family she knew well.

“I might say it was horrible,” she says as we sit in her home in south western Sydney. “I was locked up in the house whenever they went out. The first time I thought ‘Maybe they forgot and locked the house.'”

No mistake had been made, rather a systematic attempt to exploit the vulnerable woman.

Susan says she had been brought from Africa by her Australian employer when the family relocated to Sydney and remembers arriving at the nondescript two-bedroom home.

“[My employer] just changed immediately in the way she started treating me. The way she started training the kids that I’m nobody. They opened the door in the morning and stepped on me, said ‘Wake up’.”

Forced to work unpaid 18-hour days and sleep under the dining room table with three dogs, Susan says she was given a single bag of rice to eat and had her passport taken away. She says she was verbally abused and had no idea where she was living. For the promise of about $15.65 a month, she had become one of Australia’s modern slaves, of which there are an estimated 3000, according to the Walk Free Foundation’s 2014 Global Slavery Index.

It was a fear for her safety and that of her three children in Africa that drove Susan to escape, she says. Finding an unlocked padlock on the back gate, she recalls running to a neighbour’s house for help and being chased and attacked by her employer’s friend. The police were called.

Traumatised, injured and confused, she was moved to Australia’s first safe house for victims of trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, run by The Salvation Army.

“I don’t deserve this, I didn’t ask for this. I can’t believe somebody who knows me, somebody I can rely on, somebody I was looking up to can turn to take advantage of me and make me vulnerable in a way that I wasn’t expecting.

“I was in denial. No, it can’t be happening to me. I’m in a new country, so what will happen? The person who brought me here is no more on my side. I’m in the hands of total strangers. I need to get out of this dream,” she says.

Since opening in 2008, the community-owned 10-bed shelter has supported 400 people. Fewer than 20 per cent of those report to the police, said Laura Vidal, a caseworker for the Salvation Army.

Because of threats to her family and the very limited criminal justice avenues open to her at the time, Susan did not pursue justice through the police. Forced labour was criminalised in 2013 but the offence is yet to be tested in the courts.

Susan’s case went to the Refugee Review Tribunal, in which she claimed she was a victim of human trafficking. She was granted a Refugee Protection Visa, and began the long process of bringing her children to Australia.

“Susan doesn’t necessarily count in statistics as a victim of human trafficking,” said Ms Vidal. “People need to be recognised and supported as victims of crime irrespective of their participation with the criminal justice system.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police said that fear “can be an issue” in preventing victims from obtaining help.

“Human trafficking and slavery prosecutions often rely heavily on the evidence of victims. This reliance can prove an impediment as human trafficking and slavery victims can be reluctant to give evidence, particularly if they (or their families) have been the subject of violence or threats of violence.”

Between 2004 and 31 December 2015, the AFP took 619 referrals for human trafficking, slavery and slavery like practices, such as forced labour and forced marriage, according to a submission by the Attorney-General’s Department to the current parliamentary inquiry into human trafficking.

Since 2004, there have been 17 criminal trials resulting in convictions for human trafficking and slavery offences. Sixteen of those convictions related to sexual exploitation and one related to labour exploitation in a commercial kitchen. There has been an increase in labour trafficking and forced marriage cases over the past year.

Now an advocate for the Freedom Partnership, Susan shares her story with others with the hope that victims may come forward. On Wednesday, she shared her story alongside Lucy Turnbull at the launch of the Salvos’ annual Red Shield Appeal.

“This is happening in Australia, it is happening behind each and everyone’s backyard,” she says.

She claims to have met victims of slavery in her community who will not speak out about their situation.

“It’s like a stigma. Especially from my background in Africa, it’s a label and it’s going to be a permanent one.”

Jennifer Burn of Anti-Slavery Australia said that attempts to avoid the stigma of slavery are not unusual and form another hindrance to investigating cases of forced labour.

“Often people don’t want to have the stigma of exploitation attached to them, people don’t want to carry around a label, to be known forever as a slave.”

There is little community awareness within the Australian community, including state and territory government agencies, community service organisations and frontline professionals about forced labour, said Professor Burn.

“In the community, there has been growing awareness around forced marriage, but here has not been a growing awareness of labour trafficking and slavery linked to labour.”

This week, Susan very publicly faced her fraught start in Sydney.

“I’ve healed, I’ve come out of it. Back then, I couldn’t talk, but to see how far I have come and what has happened, it’s been a long journey but it’s worth sharing,” she says of her speech.

She has a diploma in community services and is an assistant in nursing. She sings with the church and occasionally misses her extended family, thousands of miles away.

“The first day I went to the safe house, I was given a bottle full of milk and some bread. That day I drank tea.

“People can say these things are simple, but to me, it wasn’t simple. To be free and to be independent, to have that peace is very important.”

*Not her real name.

If you or somebody you know would like assistance from The Salvation Army Trafficking and Slavery Safe House, please call (02) 9211 5794.

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