Today host Allison Langdon's questions to a young union representative don't reflect the often difficult nature of working in hospitality, writes Luc Devine.
LAST WEEK ON Today, host and suicide prevention ambassador for RUOK, Allison Langdon, interviewed Hospo Voice Union representative Laurence Sadler about the risks hospitality staff members face returning to work after the lockdown.
During the segment, Sadler listed the occupational hazards in a post-COVID-19 venue and how the known systemic issues of the industry compound the risk to his members.
Langdon was combative and failed to show empathy for the plight of hospitality staff, concluding the interview by stating:
“Maybe you should get a job in another industry then?”
Langdon’s primary workplace concern may be co-host Karl Stefanovic, who is notorious for a published phone call criticising then co-host Georgie Gardner for "not having enough opinions" and suggesting she "needs to step up her game if she wants to stay on the show".
At the end of 2018, Nine dumped Stefanovic in the wake of the scandal, only to fire Gardner a year later so that Stefanovic could return in 2020, this time accompanied by Langdon, who is not short on opinions. Gardner now presents Nine News on the weekend, suggesting that if Stefanovic did move to have Langdon fired, Nine would find her another gig.
It is unlikely Langdon will ever have to sign up for the Jobkeeper or Jobseeker programs.
Australian hospitality staff aren’t so lucky. According to figures reported by the ABC, 594,300 Australians lost their jobs in April and that figure continues to rise. These casualties of COVID-19 will likely be unemployed until things bounce back.
However, as the economy has suffered such a seismic shock and with a potential second wave of COVID-19 ahead, the outlook is bleak.
So why is Langdon being so hostile to Sadler, the representative of these "Aussie Battlers" on air? Because of ideology.
It’s not a secret that Channel 9 is a propaganda machine for the Liberal Government. Late last year, Nine CEO Hugh Marks hosted a corporate fundraiser for the Liberal Party, where attendees paid $10,000 a head to hobnob at the Channel 9 studio with none other than Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself.
Given this, it’s not surprising that Langdon slid into a bit of pro-Liberal "union bashing" during her interview.
If things were normal, Langon promoting a Liberal agenda like this would simply present as poor journalism, repugnant in its partisanship, but to be expected given Nine’s form.
During a pandemic, it puts people’s lives at risk. Indeed, hospitality staff are in one of the highest risk groups for COVID-19. Twelve McDonalds stores in Melbourne’s north have been closed down after a delivery driver infected two crew members at different stores.
Langdon's response to Sadler's concerns about the safety of workers is to insist that "most [hospitality] workers are pretty desperate to return to their jobs." This statement is especially perverse, because it’s Sadler on screen speaking for the workers, while Langdon is parroting a Liberal Party "talking point" to restart the economy at any cost. Even if that cost is people’s lives.
Ending the lockdown period and urging businesses to resume operations as normal is a political calculation, wherein Prime Minister Morrison accepts that a certain number of Australians will die.
It’s not unimaginable that he’s using models that predict an approximate number of dead people, which he has not released to the public.
When Langdon gets on TV and promotes the idea of workers returning to a demonstrably unsafe environment, she’s signalling an inherent Liberal Party belief that the working class are expendable. When she tells him to "get a job in another industry", she’s relaying her contempt for someone she regards as beneath her. Someone poor.
I was raised in a working-class family. I was unable to complete my first degree due to ongoing violence at home. I applied for multiple hospitality jobs, but only ever got the job if I knew an existing staff member.
Most of the hospitality jobs I worked in shared two common features: abusive management and exploitative workplace practices. Each time, this was my only option. People who do service jobs are subject to a dual front of potential attack from management and customers. They are often berated, belittled and ridiculed by people who regard them as less than human.
Brodie Panlock suffered systematic bullying at the hands of her manager Nicholas Smallwood and co-worker Rhys McAlpine, which drove her to commit suicide. At the inquest into her death, the coroner heard that Smallwood put fish oil in her bag, covered her with chocolate sauce and told her she was worthless. She was spat on and told she was ugly. This bullying was protracted and the business owner didn’t deem it appropriate to intervene on her behalf.
The reality is are very few institutional checks on the hospitality business to ensure the safety of workers.
Hospitality staff are rarely asked RUOK. The frantic pace combined with the incessant quest to extract maximum dollar value from your labour seldom permits a gap to have a conversation about your mental health. As Sadler said,“it’s quite a dodgy industry for workers".
Even pre-pandemic hospitality staff were at a disadvantage. Just ask workers from Grill’d, from whom millions of dollars were fraudulently stolen when they forced workers into a "traineeship" to avoid paying them the higher casual rate.
And who could forget "celebrity chef" George Columbaris, who stole $7.8 million dollars from workers by not paying overtime and proper penalty rates due to accidentally not installing the required processes to do so.
No employee happily submits to unfavourable circumstances. Hospitality staff do so because they need the work. That includes career professionals and casuals. If it were easy to get another job, they would have.
With limited opportunities to redeploy their skills, hospitality staff members will face challenges in the coming years including unemployment and potential homelessness, which will be compounded by the mental health conditions that go along with those circumstances.
Many of them will be at risk of suicide. Langdon appears happy to condemn them to that fate. So, if you catch her in some future segment promoting suicide prevention on RUOK day, it’s valid to question whether or not she means it. Because that interview suggests Langdon is only concerned if some people ROK, if it aligns with her agenda.
Luc Devine is a writer.
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