When the right comes to a worker’s defence

An 18-year-old children’s entertainer, Madeline, last week was sacked by Capital Kids Parties in the ACT after putting a “vote no” filter on her Facebook profile picture. Her employer, Madlin Sims, informed her of her dismissal on 17 September before writing on her own Facebook page:

“Today I fired a staff member who made it public knowledge that they feel ‘it’s okay to vote no’ … Voting no is homophobic. Advertising your homophobia is hate speech. As a business owner I can't have somebody who publicly represents my business posting hate speech online. 1. It’s bad for business 2. I don't like shit morals 3. I don't want homophobes working for me, especially in an environment with children.”

It’s the latest case of petty employers using their economic power to police the private opinions of their workforce. (Before you cheer Sims on, consider how many thoughts and activities could be grounds for sacking under her points one and two.) Previous high profile examples include SBS firing reporter Scott McIntyre for making a number of “inappropriate and disrespectful” tweets about Anzac Day and the Australian Public Service Commission’s social media guide, which prohibits federal employees posting anti-government statements or material.

The striking thing about this latest case, however, is not the action of the boss, but the people who have mobilised most forcefully in defence of the worker – the nut job right in the Murdoch press.

It is curious in the extreme that the very same group of freedom fighters who advocate “flexibility” in the workplace – the gutting of unfair dismissal laws, the trashing of award system protections, the neutering of unions, the banning of union emblems on construction sites (because they constitute bullying, no less) and so on – have found a cause in an unfairly sacked contractor.

As Helen Razer, writing at Crikey, notes of Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, who currently is Madeline’s most vocal defender:

“Bolt championed [former Liberal PM John] Howard, a man who believed it was up to the market to decide our fate. The market decided Madeline’s fate. Madeline’s boss reasoned that an events company would lose profit if word got out that one of its staff had urged for ‘No’ on social media.”

Now, however, Bolt opines that she “must be tempted to sue someone for a) sacking you without … good reason and b) vilifying you like this”.

But here’s the rub. In a May 2016 piece, Bolt described the churches’ “right to discriminate” as “their freedom to insist their employees live the faith”. That’s right, religious institutions already have the legal right to engage in bigoted hiring and firing practices – something Bolt vocally defends. For example, the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act notes:

“Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person’s … sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.”

Unlike gays or perhaps even divorcees sacked by a Christian institution, Madeline can seek restitution under the ACT Discrimination Act, which protects people against discrimination based on political or religious conviction. As a contractor, however, she has few grounds for claiming unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act – a bunch of laws the right believes is far too tough on the bosses.

So while it’s unlikely that Bolt and his fellow thinkers will come out as rights at work campaigners, at the end of the day, as Razer notes, “If there’s one good outcome it is a re-emerged interest in the life of the worker. All thanks to a ‘No’ voter feted by Andrew Bolt”.