Wednesday, December 31, 2008

#111: The Price Of Love

Day in and day out all we hear from different people are complaints about the rising costs of rental properties in and around our fine city. I can understand this and also appreciate the difficulty in finding suitable rental at an affordable price – after all rental has gone through the roof and yet wages and benefits haven’t increased at the same rate to keep up with it all. Most real estate agencies and tenancy bodies refute this though and will claim that rental increases with the CPI and no higher. Let me tell you right now that they're all lying and here’s your proof.

In 1995 I moved into a large two bedroom property in a suburb just outside of the city. When I moved in the rent was $110 per week, when I moved out in mid 1998 the rent had increased to $125 per week. I was partially working and partially living off the goodwill of our Federal siblings at the time at a rate of around $320 per fortnight with some rental assistance, bringing the total up to around $375 per fortnight. That wasn’t bad in 1998, now I doubt I could feed my cats on that rate.

According to a 2001 paper published by FaCS in 1998 the full rate of Newstart, or whatever the equivalent was called back then, was, pre-rent assistance, roughly $322 per fortnight. According to Centrelink in 2008 the full rate of Newstart is, pre-rent assistance, roughly $440 per fortnight. That’s roughly a 37% increase in earnings over ten years, which equates to 3.7% per annum, which is in line with the CPI. The rent assistance has dropped as back in 1998 you could access a rent rebate from both us in the form of a weekly cheque and also assistance via Centrelink, now the feds have taken it over entirely and I believe that it turns out to be less than what could have been claimed back in the day. As it stands the maximum amount of rent assistance payable is around $52 per week, adding an extra $104 to every payment. In 1998 the amount was around $45 per week, adding an extra $90, plus an additional $50 per fortnight from us, $25 per week.

As of this week the same property that I lived at in 1998, which cost $125 per week in rental, now costs $250 per week in rental. That’s a 100% increase in ten years, or 10% per annum. There’s a fair difference there, in fact it’s a whopping difference between the rent increase and the CPI. Now how do I know what the rent of my old place has increased to? I’ve seen an ad for a place across the road which is very similar in size and location to the property I lived in and I checked the current market rental on the property I lived at back then and the rental prices are exactly the same. Clearly there’s a wide paddock between what the Government gives you and what landlords charge in rent and that difference is virtually unworkable. Even factoring in rental assistance will bring the same rough numbers forward – there’s no parity between the two amounts. Even essential services, such as gas and electricity have increased over the CPI (58% and 46% respectively) and that other most basic of essentials, food, has also gone up and above the CPI (48%) but rent has increased, in this case, by 100%. I’m sure the same applies elsewhere. And let's not mention the increases in medical costs.

So who controls the prices of rent? The easy answer is the market as a whole, which is a joke answer at best. Landlords control rents and there is no real regulatory body to monitor the increases in rent. Even the RTT has no real control. The landlord is obliged by law not to increase the rent by more than the CPI and if such an act happens then a tenant may apply to the RTT to have the rental increase look at as being unreasonable and thus brought into line with the CPI. That looks good on a policy paper, but the stark reality is that if a landlord wants to increase the rent by a considerable amount then they will. The easy way out is for a landlord to merely terminate the tenancy with the required time frames at the end of the lease and then re-let the property at a vastly inflated rate. I’ve heard of this happening more than once and at times the person moving into the property at the increased amount is the same person who just moved out. It’s called circumventing the system. Most landlords will gamble on the fact that their tenants either have no knowledge that they can dispute the amount of rent that they pay to the RTT or that they’ll be too eager to hold onto their tenancy to take the risk. After all the landlord, when it comes to rent, holds the aces in the bulk of the situations. As long as the rent isn’t increased by a large amount then they will continue to get away with increasing it and the majority of landlords will increase the rent of a property anywhere from 5 to 10% per annum, and that’s a conservative estimate. Despite the efforts of the RTT there isn’t anything, nor anyone, to regulate the increases of rent, nor is there anyone to stop the increases of rent. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has ever successfully challenged a rent increase and remained in the property, quite the opposite. Tenants will frequently grumble about their rent but they’ll still pay it because what are the alternatives? Being homeless? Finding a new devil perhaps? Often it’s a case of the better the devil you know, no matter how expensive and unfair.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – self regulation of the real estate business just doesn’t work. It needs an independent body to regulate it, but one with some real power to effect change and control oput of control rents and landlords, along with exercising some form of legal power over cretinous tenants, unlike both the RTT and Consumer Affairs. Perhaps one day...but not today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

#110: Welcome To The Jungle

You know where you are? You in the office baby, you gonna die!

Word travels fast in all Government jobs so although these events have yet to happen in the department where I work I fully expect that eventually some bright spark in upper level management will swoop on this as a great idea indeed. I’m also aware that by writing about this someone might seize on the events and introduce them anyway, the downside of that, for the person seizing that is, is that they’ll have to admit that they not only read this blog but also take notice. There’s people in the field where I work who’d rather admit to paedophilia than that.

Over at our Federal chums they’re attempting to solve the age old problem of internet usage and productivity. Instead of merely dumping dud workers who sit there all day surfing the likes of Facebook and MySpace, they’re looking at a blanket solution, roughly translated, “Let’s penalise everyone in order to get the few slackers that we want.” The problem being that those slackers will merely refuse to turn up for work anymore and will instead miss being harmed, go on sick leave and eventually be redeployed in a higher position with fewer duties. Personally I think alligators have the right idea – they eat their own, especially the useless ones. In our department we had the annual lecture regarding internet usage and were told to tone things down a bit, no blogs, no Facebook or other social networking type sites, and keep other sites for downtime, breaks and the like. Now that I can, and do, agree with. You don’t need to be surfing eBay while you’re working on a complex case, and if you are surfing eBay then you’re clearly not working. I know I’m totally switched off when I surf such sites at work, but I’ve never gone onto Facebook or the like during work hours. Mind you I am aware that someone spent a lot of time visiting on-line dating sites during work hours, but we don’t go into that. Our lecture finished, with some humour, all agreed on what was discussed, some of it was promptly forgotten and ignored and life goes on. We’re aware of the consequences.

Now the Federal counterparts…Gawd…are they harsh! Welcome to the jungle indeed. The problems with them seem to lie squarely on the fact that costs are being cut everywhere, they’ve closed essential service, and indeed have shut down at least one major service delivery point here and routed everyone into the suburbs, and moved/merged other departments. If you’ve ever phoned them and wondered why they all sound so pissed off it might have something to do with all their calls being timed, no external stimuli at all, no break times outside of the pre-designated lunch half hour and that old granddaddy of all Victorian practices – timed toilet breaks. I’m surprised that they’ve left the doors on the stalls and not resorted to chaining people to chairs.

I’m not sure how a timed toilet break works. Does it mean that someone comes along with you with a stop watch and hits start when the action kicks in? Someone might need to explain that one in greater detail.

The other practice about to be put into place is far more draconian than any of that though. What someone in upper level management has decided, and this has been decided by someone who has never done the job in question and operates/manages from nearly 2,000 kilometres away, is the introduction of what is charmingly called ‘Focus Days’. A ‘Focus Day’ involves the removal of all external stimuli, internet, email and even their own internal contact services for up to three days per week. Anything that could be used to contact anyone outside of the offices, even phones, are banned and forbidden. I have no idea what the penalty is but as it is Government I expect the punishments would involve that time honoured practice, the ‘informal discussion’, another way of having someone scream at you about useless you are without the need for official witnesses or union representation. It’s all noted down and can be used to show a pattern of bad behaviour when your time has come.

The general aim of the ‘Focus Days’ is to focus the attention of staff on their work and increase their overall productivity across the board. As that classic Futurama poster says, ‘A Mindless Worker Is A Happy Worker, So Shut Up And Do Your Job’, and nowhere is this more apt. The idea of sealing a worker in a room, cutting off any forms of communication and expecting them to work away happily went out with the formation of the Bee Union. It just isn’t workable, especially in this day and age and here’s why.

I use email constantly where I work. I’ll freely admit that not all of my emails are work related but a good percentage is. We’re encouraged to establish links with other agencies in the community and email can be a more effective way to communicate, especially when the person you want might be in and out and not always within phone reach. With email you can attach reports or documents for review. I can go to web-sites and download documents that I need. It’s all there with a click of the fingers. To remove that would seriously hinder how well I can do my job. It’d also mean that I’d spent far more time on the phone trying to reach people when I could simply hit ‘send’ on my email and be done with it all. In short, to remove the internet would mean that my job, while not impossible, would be a lot harder and I doubt I’d be working more efficiently. After all count the amount of time you spend on hold waiting to reach some saps answering service only to discover that you’re not able to leave a message, and then compare that with the amount of time it takes to write a few lines and send it off into cyberspace.

Not comparable. So for all you poor employees who are about to have your basic right of communication taken away by someone who’s clearly studied the Ebenezer Scrooge Book Of Workplace Relations I’d suggest that you check with your union representatives first, because it might ever so slightly not be on the up and up. And for the management who feel that a good employee is one who is browbeaten, why don’t you go without your mobile phones and internet for a few days and lead by example. But then you need all of that to stay in touch with other agencies don't you?

Anyway, have a great Christmas a safe new year. I’ll be back in ’09 and hopefully on a more regular basis than I was this year. As always, feel free to leave your comments.