In this week’s blog, we’re going to answer one of humanity’s most existential questions: where do treadmills come from? And I don’t mean from the shops. I mean what is the history of the treadmill?
The treadmill was discovered by Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. Cortes was sent to Mexico by the king of Spain to convert the Aztec civilisation to weight training. Cortes offered to trade their solar-powered treadmills against European iron-cast dumbbells. The Aztecs invented the treadmill because its was too dangerous to run in the forest due to snakes and spiders. Upon refusal from the Aztecs, Cortes and his men, much bigger in size thanks to their dumbbell training, decimated them all and brought the treadmills home.
Origin and etymology
The author of this article may have taken certain liberties with the historical accuracy of the story above. The reality is a little bit less exotic. The word treadmill is made up of the verb ‘tread’ and the noun ‘mill’. Treading means walking, stepping or running. A mill is a piece of equipment or a building equipped with machines that grind grain. That's the boring stuff out of the way.
The ancestor of the treadmill is the treadwheel. The treadwheel was an animal or human powered mechanical device that was used in farming and construction to transport water, move heavy objects or to grind grain. The treadwheel dates back to Ancient Greece and was used until the invention of the first fossil-fueled machines.
Pain but no gain
At the beginning of the 19th century, a British engineer named William Cubitt thought it would be a good idea to put prisoners’ energy to good use and have them walk on treadmills as a form of labour. The monotonous aspect of walking on a treadmill soon became a source of punishment for prisoners.
In the 20th century, treadmills started to be used in the medical field to monitor patient’s heart health. Today, treadmills are the number one selling piece of exercise equipment. Treadmills are everywhere. There’s even one inside the International Space Station. Maybe they'll bring a bench and a squat rack next.
I enjoy running a lot because in addition to improving my cardio, running allows me to clear my head and refocus on my goals. That said, I can’t stand spending more than a minute on a treadmill. I feel like a hamster on a wheel, no offense to those cheeky little fur balls. Nothing beats the feeling of soft grass or hard sand under my feet with the warm sun on my face.
Treadmills can be extremely handy in environments where running outside can be difficult or when the weather is really bad. I travelled to Tokyo, Japan a few years ago (there's actually another place named Tokyo in Papua New Guinea). Running in Tokyo wasn't practical as it was raining forever and I would have definitely got lost in the city.
Now that you know where the treadmill comes from, you can show off your newfound knowledge at the gym, bore your friends to death or stop random strangers on the street to tell them.
Everybody likes a good deal on their gym membership. Everybody likes a good deal on anything they buy, let's be honest. Joining a gym is a serious financial commitment. Parting away with your hard-earned cash can be a daunting experience. Yet there are ways to shave off big dollars of your membership if you are ready to shop around and be patient.
Do your homework
First you want to find the best gym for you. There's a gym in almost every street in Australia, so once you find a couple of contenders, it's time to compare what they offer and decide which one fits your bill, Bill. Location is paramount: the nearer your gym is, the more likely you are to actually go there. Look up the opening hours, the variety of classes available, parking facilities and any other services you may be interested in such as a swimming pool or a creche for your kids.
Check with your workplace or your insurance provider if you are eligible for any discounts at the gyms you like. Look up their websites, Facebook pages and Google reviews. Some gyms offer free trials so you can get a feel before you sign up. What's the atmosphere like? How clean are the facilities? How busy is the gym at peak hours? You can also sign up for Groupon and, if you're not in a hurry, you can wait for seasonal offers such as New Year’s or summer deals.
Cash is king
Wether I'm paying for my gym membership, my fitness equipment or my mechanic bill, I always pay cash. Cash works better with smaller family-owned gyms. You can bargain for an extra month free or a cheaper price than the gym's cheapest advertised price. Big chain gyms are less likely to bargain much since they already offer cheap-as-chips memberships.
Above all, paying cash allows you to stay away from gym contracts, meaning no sharing of your bank details, no cancellation fees and no hassle when your membership is over. The downside is that you won't be able to get a refund should you leave the gym unexpectedly. You also need to have enough savings to pay for your membership in one go.
Bribe your way in
When I lived in Scotland, I used to train at a small independent gym only minutes from Glasgow. I trained there twice a week and I soon became friend with the manager. When I returned from a trip to my home country of France, I brought him a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine (for the connoisseurs) and a smoked salami. He was so pleased he let me in for free every single time after that.
This may not be the most entertaining of stories but the takeaway here is that showing appreciation for the staff pays dividends. Remember that everything has a price. Gyms are a bit like coffee. You can get a $1 coffee from any petrol station in the country, but if it tastes like engine oil, that's not really a bargain, is it? At the end of the day, you want to find a gym that you like at a fair price.
'Work' refers to an activity that is performed in order to produce a result and that generally contributes to the good of society. Work can be creative, artistic or done on a voluntary basis. The term ‘employment’ dates back to the Middle-Ages and refers to work that is done in exchange of a wage. Employment is paid work. The difference, beyond semantics, is that employment is disappearing while there will always be work.
In 2015, a report from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) forecast that more than 5 million jobs would disappear in the next 10 to 15 years. In 2018, research from the Australian Institute’s Centre for Future Work revealed that less than half of Australian workers had a permanent full-time job. I wrote about underemployment a while ago. In brief, underemployment is creeping up, casual is the new normal and an increasing number of workers are only a couple of bills away from poverty.
The situation we experience today is the result of advances in automation and technology as well as neoliberal economic policies pushing towards work casualisation. Nobody is safe, from the bottom of the working pool to the most qualified workers. Our current system has reached its limits: economic growth doesn't equate to employment growth anymore. It’s not all doom and gloom though.
There will always be people to feed, roads to repair and things to build or fix. Employment will never completely disappear. Certain jobs simply can’t be replaced by robots. I'm thinking of jobs that require human physical interaction such as nurses or physiotherapists. The remaining jobs, however, will be precarious, highly competitive and will leave many people behind.
In order to produce the article you are reading, I have to research, write a draft then edit it. You can argue that writing a blog is a leisure activity, it is a lot of work nonetheless. Stay at home mums may not be employed either, yet they work hard to raise and look after their children so they can be healthy and educated. Volunteering is working too. Volunteers feed the poor, clean the environment or look after the elderly - all of which are the government's responsibilities by the way. Meaningful work also contributes to boost workers’ self-esteem and feeling of contributing to society.
Any work that contributes to the overall good of society should be compensated. Another avenue worth exploring is the concept of universal basic income. A universal basic income is a government allowance granted to every resident of a country so they can meet their basic needs such as food, health and accommodation. The idea appeared in the early 20th century and was supported by Australia’s Labor Party’s Barry Jones in the 1980's before it was dropped by the Bob Hawke Labor government. More on universal basic income in another blog.
A word to the wise
For Ancient Greece philosopher Aristotle, work is a means to an end. For 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx, work is the essence of man but hard labour is alienation. As for me, I think there needs to be a discussion about the place of work in our society today and how to prepare for the future before it is too late.
The European Union as we know it today started almost 70 years ago as a cartel of coal and steel producers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. There have been different names over the years and twenty-two countries have joined the European Union since its creation. The single market was created to allow capital, goods, services and people to move freely and the common Euro currency was introduced to stabilise prices in the Eurozone.
The 7 crystal balls
The European Union is made up of 7 institutions: the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors. The only European institution whose members are democratically elected is the European Parliament. Elections take place every 5 years, however turnout has been historically low at less than 50% for the last 20 years.
The main role of any parliament is to make laws. Yet the European Parliament does not have such power. Legislative power - the power to make laws - is in the hands of the European Commission. The European Parliament is a parliament in name only. Members of the other European institutions are designated by their respective governments and approved by the Parliament, except for the European Council whose members are the heads of states or governments.
One ring to rule them all
Over time, the European Union took over the national sovereignty of its member countries through the cunning use of treaties. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) took away the right of member countries to borrow money directly from their central banks at a low or nil rate and imposed neoliberal policies to all member countries. Other treaties such as the Stability and Growth Pact (1998) or the Fiscal Compact (2012) imposed European economic directives to all members and gave the European Union the power to veto any fiscal policies of any member country.
One-way democracy is not democracy
There is no way for ordinary people to vote against European policies. Yet, when a country disagrees with the European Union, their decision is systematically overturned. The examples of the French, Dutch, Greek and British referendums speak for themselves. ‘There can be no democratic choice against European treaties’ said Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, following the result of the Greek referendum about the EU's proposed bailout plan. The Greeks voted against Brussels' austerity measures and ended up with an even harsher deal than what they were negotiating before the referendum.
In 2005, France and the Netherlands rejected by referendum the proposal of a European Constitution. Two years later, the Treaty of Lisbon - a rebadged European Constitution - was signed by both countries. Other countries such as Denmark (1992) or Ireland (2008) held referendums twice until the result was is favour of the European Union. Democratic decisions are OK as long as they don’t interfere with the EU’s agenda. The European Union crucified Greece as a warning to the other countries and is trying to do the same with the United Kingdom.
Something is rotten in the state of Europe
In addition to an absence of democracy, there is a lack of transparency and non-accountability from the European institutions. The Eurogroup, a shadow institution of finance ministers, meet behind closed doors to discuss trade deals that undermine safety and environmental standards such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
There's also the question of the EU's imperial ambitions behind the creation of a European army and its interference in foreign countries' political affairs such as Venezuela's. Last but not least, the European Union - via its Central Bank - has proven its incompetence in managing the Euro debt crisis. To put it into the words of Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister: ‘The European Central Bank lent the biggest amount of money in the history of capitalism to the most bankrupt state in Europe.’ I couldn’t have said it better.
The European Union is on the brink of disintegration, as can be seen with the rise of nationalism and far-right political groups or the Brexit in the UK and the yellow vests movement in France. I wrote about the yellow vests a few months ago. The main demand of the protesters is citizens' initiated referendums, which is a means of direct democracy. French citizens could submit or repeal a law proposal, modify the constitution or remove any politician from office.
French President Emmanuel Macron said during an interview on the BBC that French people would probably vote to leave the EU as well if there was a referendum. This is precisely why he won't grant the yellow vests the means to make democratic choices that would endanger the European Union further. The definition of a democracy is governance of the people, by the people, for the people. A definition that clearly does not apply to the European Union.
No light at the end of the tunnel
There’s a crisis of democracy, or lack thereof, in the way the European Union is run and the way it operates, which leans more towards that of a mafia than a democracy. The European Union restricts the freedom and liberties of its member countries at the expense of the people. Competition between member countries associated with privatisation and austerity policies have resulted in more social injustice and the impoverishment of the people.
Reforming the European Union is impossible. The probability of 28 governments from all sides of the political spectrum agreeing to reform the European Union couldn't be closer to zero. Take it apart and rebuild as new. I will conclude with a quote from British political economy professor Mark Blyth: 'At the end of the day, if the European Union is not improving the lives of the majority of the people, what is it for?'
I recently had a chat with a friend who had been looking for a job for several months. He had finally found one and it was full-time, well paid and didn’t require any particular skills. Good on you Michael! When I asked him how difficult his job was, he replied that the only difficult aspect of the job was to get the job. ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, he added. This wasn’t the first time I heard that saying but on this occasion I began to reflect upon it.
‘I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.'
‘What you know’ refers to your skills and competences. It is your TAFE certificate, your university degree or simply your experience in a particular occupation. As a parent, you tell your kids that if they work hard at school they will be rewarded with a good job and a comfortable life. As a student, you invest a tremendous amount of time and money in acquiring advanced degrees or qualifications for the same reasons.
The idea that all your hard work can come undone because you simply don't know 'the right people' is unfair and frustrating. The sad reality is that we live in a system that doesn't reward the hard-working and deserving people, but those who are cunning and who are not afraid of stamping on ethics and their own principles. But this is for another blog.
Networking is not a crime
‘Who you know’ refers to your network. Networking means building and nurturing a group of people, acquaintances, former colleagues or people working in the same industry for the purpose of mutual benefits. Sometimes connections happen naturally, as part of your work. Sometimes you have to give luck a nudge, by attending events or introducing yourself to the right people. Building a strong network takes time and effort, and it is crucial if you hope to succeed.
Social networking is another form of networking. Platforms like Linkedin or Facebook have made networking easier and can be of great help, in particular if you're an introverted person. The motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that ‘you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with’. While I don’t agree with his statement, I do believe you should surround yourself with people who pull you up instead of dragging you down.
Inequality of opportunities
’It’s not what you know, it's who you know’ implies a hierarchy between your skills and your network, in which the latter tramples the former. When I go to the dentist or when I hire a plumber, I search for the best I can find - or that I can afford, not the most popular. These sometimes go hand in hand, yet I always look for the one who knows his or her stuff. Call me an idealist, but I believe a job should always go to the most suited applicant, regardless of who they know or any other factor such as age, ethnicity, gender or even handicap.
More importantly, it also implies there are people in positions for which they are not suitably qualified or that they didn’t necessarily deserve. Politics is a great example. How on earth did Melissa Price become Minister for the Environment? I know I will probably take some heat for picking on her. She popped up on my social media feed one day so I listened out of curiosity and, oh boy, is she clueless! The time has come to wrap up this week's blog as I'm starting to digress. If you made it to the end, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read my work.
Do you feel like your personal goals and your job no longer align? If you’re not enjoying what you do anymore and you don’t see yourself doing the same job in the future, it may be time for a change. What should you do when you want to change job but you don’t know where to start?
What are you good (and not so good) at?
Start by making a list of what you like and what you dislike about your current job. Write down all the ideas you can think of. It can be the workload, the nature of your job, the work environment, the company culture, your salary and so on. Review as many aspects of your activity as possible. Since you intend to change job, there should be more dislikes on your list.
Add to your list what you want and what you don’t want your next job to be like. Keep in mind that you might never find the perfect job so be flexible and ready to compromise a little. Employers value flexibility a lot. Carry on by including your strengths and weaknesses to your list. This is what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. Be honest with yourself, nobody else will read your list anyway. Finally, add your personal interests.
Which jobs tick your boxes?
Use your list as a checklist to help you find out what you want to do next. Start with the industries you would like to work in and see which ones tick your boxes. Pick one and write down the jobs or activities that you see yourself doing within this industry. Shortlist the occupations that match your preferences. Repeat this process for any industry you’re interested in and see how many potential jobs you can come up with. Remember that finding a job in an industry you have no or little experience in could take a lot of time and effort.
Learn about the jobs and industries
Gather as much information as you can about the jobs you’re interested in. If you know people who are already working in the industry or doing the job you like, either friends or family members, meet up with them and ask them all the questions you can think of. What are the pros and cons of the job? What is a typical day like? Ask them if you can assist them for a day so you can get some first-hand experience.
Go to seminars or events about the industry you’re thinking of working in. Find online courses related to the activity you’re interested in. Online learning platforms like Udemy.com offer thousands of short and affordable courses. If you have the time and if it is possible, volunteering can be a great way to learn about a job or a particular industry too.
Be financially ready
Leaving your current job and searching for a new one can be a cause of financial stress, in particular if you haven’t secured anything yet. It can take months to find a new job, no matter how prepared you are. Make sure you have enough money aside to support yourself while searching for a new job. This is even more important if you have a family. A good rule of thumb is to have six months worth of living expenses saved up. Being financially secure will take the pressure off your shoulders so you can focus on your goal of finding a job.
If you think you’re not financially ready to leave your job yet, start saving now so you can be safe later. Another thing to consider is that you next job may not pay as much as your current one does. This means you may need to make some adjustments to your current lifestyle. Having enough savings aside will allow you to make the transition a little bit smoother. This is particularly true if you have to meet mortgage or loan repayments every month.
Do your own research
When it comes to finding a new job, buying a car, finding online courses or investing in a property, it is crucial to do your own research. Read as much as you can about the jobs and industries you’re considering so you can make the best decision for your next career move. These tips should help you get started in your search of your new job.
After a long time working in the same job, you have finally decided it is time for a change. If you already know the job you want to apply for, your next step is the dreaded paperwork. If you haven’t updated your resume in years and you wish to catch up before going on a job hunt, this week's blog is for you.
Keep it simple
Stick to a simple format for your resume. Keep it clear and neat. An overly creative resume that is hard to read will deter recruiters from spending time on it. Use a traditional layout: your contact details at the top, followed by your skills and experience, and your education background last.
To save space, cut your home address from your contact details. This protects your privacy if you post your resume online and recruiters will only contact you by email or telephone anyway. Last but not least, make sure your email sounds professional. Create a new professional email address if you need to.
Look at samples of resumes online and pick the one you like the most to get started. It is sometimes better to design your own resume, as some employers may consider using a template as a sign of laziness. Your resume should be aimed at the job you are applying for. If you are applying for an architect position for example, designing your own resume will make you stand out and work in your favour.
Focus on your skills and experience
Focus on your skills and your experience. Highlight the skills that are relevant for the position you are applying for. For example, if you are proficient in using a particular software but this software is no longer used, don’t include it in your resume. Skills change over time and what was relevant ten years ago may not be useful today.
In addition to skills, recruiters want employees with experience. Include any work experience that is relevant for the job you are applying for. Focus on what you have accomplished in your previous occupation. Highlight what you brought to the company you were working for: what you built, how you pushed sales numbers up or how you increased productivity.
You are selling yourself so showcase your achievements. If you have a website or a blog, include a link to them in your resume. If you are a freelance photographer posting pictures on Instagram, include the name of your account in your resume.
Polish your presentation
Presentation details such as font and colours can add up to the overall impression of your resume. However the opposite is also true. Choosing inappropriate font and colours can make a great resume look pretty average. The font should be easy to read and look modern. Size matters too. While a smaller size will allow you to squeeze in more information onto your resume, it will also make it more difficult to read by your potential employers. Don’t go below size ten and your resume will be fine.
Regarding the length of your resume, one to two pages is good, depending on your experience. If you are entering the workforce, you may not have much to write on your resume and a single page will be enough. Remember that your resume is nothing but a list of your skills and your experience. Don't write your autobiography.
Pick your words carefully. Avoid using the passive form and choose action verbs. This will give potential employers the impression that you are a dynamic person. Check your spelling before you save your resume. There are enough free online tools available to check your spelling for you so there is no excuse for a resume written in bad english.
Manage your time
In the end, there is only so much you can do to sell yourself. The companies you worked for and your previous roles are what recruiters are the most interested in. These won’t change, no matter how good your resume look. My final piece of advice is not to spend too much time on updating your resume. Set yourself a deadline, write the best resume you can and move on to the next step.
How early in your search for a new job should you break the news to your employer? This is a difficult question to answer. This depends on the relationship you have with your employer. If your relations are good, you can tell your employer as early as when you make the decision to find a new job. In some cases, your employer may even help and support you in your research. It happens. In the case of an already difficult relationship with your employer, the safest option is to wait until you have secured or you’re about to secure your next job.
Honesty is the best policy
Be honest about the reasons why you want to leave. You don’t need to be too specific or negative about these reasons but an honest explanation will probably leave a better impression to your employer. For example you may no longer want to work in an office-based role and you would like to experience working outdoors. Maybe you have come full circle in your current job and you want a career in a different industry with new challenges to motivate you.
Don’t burn your bridges
It is always better to leave your job on good terms with your employer. You may need referrals or recommendation letters from them when you apply for a new job. They could be contacted as a reference or as part of a background check about your previous position. Another thing that can help you leave a good impression is giving enough notice to your current employer. Depending on your activity, you could even offer to stay on until a suitable replacement has been found or until the person set to replace you has been trained and can carry on your work when you leave. If you can avoid it, don’t burn your bridges.
Here are a few more tips that can help you avoid trouble at work when you’re thinking about leaving your job. Try to do all your job hunting outside your working hours. Avoid using your office computer or internet for your research. If you need to make a phone call, use your personal phone and do it during your lunch break when nobody is around - at least nobody who could get you into trouble, like your manager or other colleagues. If your boss was to find out that you’re looking for a new job during work hours, there’s a good chance that you loose your job earlier than you anticipated to.
This blog follows my previous one about the yellow vests movement in France. If you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do so as it is clear and complete. One idea broadly supported by the yellow vests movement is citizens’ initiated referendums. Public referendums are a means of direct democracy. I thought I should elaborate on democracy before moving on.
Direct democracy versus representative democracy
Direct democracy is a form of government in which people vote directly on the laws of a country. They can submit proposals to public referendums and revoke their representatives when they cease to act in the general interest. Direct democracy works best in smaller countries or at a local level. Representative democracy is a form of government in which people elect representatives who will legislate on their behalf. All democracies today are representative. This form of government is preferred in countries where the great number of people makes direct democracy difficult to implement.
The social contract and the drift towards authoritarianism
The social contract is a philosophical and political theory that is the basis for representative democracy. People accept to give up some of their rights to their representatives - or government, who will legislate on their behalf in order to guarantee their rights and liberties. John Locke, a 17th century English philosopher whose ideas influenced the Enlightenment period, was one of the pioneers of the social contract theory.
When the government and elected representatives can no longer guarantee people’s rights and liberties, the social contract is broken. When democracy fades away, we drift into ‘soft’ authoritarianism. John Locke argues that when this happens, people are no longer bound to the social contract and have the right to take action to replace the representatives or the government in power.
The example of the Athenian democracy
The Greek city-state of Athens became the first democracy in the 5th century BC. Citizens - which didn’t include slaves, women, and men who hadn’t accomplished their military service - were allowed to take part to popular assemblies during which they could debate and vote on every single issue affecting the city. Athens’ direct form of democracy was groundbreaking in the sense that it involved ‘normal people’ in the decision-making process of their city. Unfortunately Athens’ democracy was short-lived and the city fell under Macedonian rule less than 200 years later.
Democracy needs education to work
There was however one limitation to Athenian democracy: education, or lack thereof. Many officials in Athens managed to talk their way into positions of power without the proper knowledge to perform their duties. Socrates, a Greek philosopher who experienced Athenian democracy, criticised and exposed some of these demagogues in public. He would be sentenced to death for it.
Democracy without education leads to populism. This is one of the reasons why we are seeing extreme political groups gaining popularity across the world. Education is the cure for society’s ills and it should be the priority of any government that claims to act in the interest of its citizens. One can argue that most governments today are better off with a dumbed down population.
You may disagree with my following statement but to me, voting should be a privilege, not a right. Giving voting rights to uneducated or uninformed people is like playing Russian roulette. Some thinkers have formulated the idea of a voting licence, similar to driving. While I'm not entirely sold on the idea, I do think we need to open the debate on the importance of education for democracy.
The example of workers cooperatives
A workers’ cooperative is a business that is owned and controlled by its employees. No more middlemen, or stakeholders, to pull the workers' strings. Workers cooperatives are true democratic workplaces. Employees decide on their working conditions, what they produce and how they produce it. They decide what to do with profits, they elect their leaders and they have the power to revoke them.
The side effects of having a business owned by its workers is that better working conditions produce happier workers, which in turn drives productivity up. So far, the data available has shown that workers’ cooperatives are beneficial for local economies, have a higher success rate than standard business structures and are less affected by economic downturns.
I hope you now have a better understanding of the origins of democracy, its different forms and why it is worth fighting for. I welcome any comments or ideas and if you made it to this final sentence, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read my work.
Unless you live in a cave, you are probably aware of the yellow vests movement that has been shaking France for the last three months. Protesters identify themselves as the « yellow vests », from the high-visibility jacket French drivers are required to carry in their vehicles. What was supposed to be a one-day rally is turning into the most significant social protest of the decade. How has the country of human rights come to this?
The context of the 2017 presidential election
The 2017 French presidential election was somewhat chaotic. The first stage of the election saw centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron get 24% of the votes before proceeding to the second stage, when he got 44% of the votes and became president. People who didn’t vote for him either voted for his opponent, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, or cast a blank vote, or abstained from voting. Whichever way you look at it, the majority of voters did not want him as their president. Though Emmanuel Macron was elected according to the French direct ballot system, many people question his legitimacy.
Evil Robin Hood
Since his election, Emmanuel Macron has abolished the wealth tax, reformed the labour laws and increased taxes on pensions to offer businesses tax breaks in an effort to boost employment. He is taking from the needy to give to the wealthy, like an evil Robin Hood. While most foreign medias have been praising his style and his reforms, Emmanuel Macron has reached the status of most unpopular president in the history of the country.
The yellow vests movement started following the government’s decision to increase fuel taxes, and diesel in particular. The increase was supposed to finance environment-friendly initiatives. The first problem is that it was the government itself that encouraged people to buy diesel cars in the early 2000’s. At the time, diesel vehicles were thought to be better for the environment. The second problem is that due to unaffordable housing prices, many people moved to the outskirts of the big cities or to the countryside and rely on their cars to go to work.
The tipping point
This was the last straw. With the fuel tax, Emmanuel Macron opened Pandora’s box and let out the repressed anger from decades of political and economic reforms that have pushed the working class, pensioners and students closer to poverty. The word spread out on social media for weeks before the first protest on November 17th. There was a second weekend of protests, and a third. It has now been twelve weeks since the first yellow vests took to the streets.
Citizens' initiated referendums
The demands of the protesters moved from the fuel tax repeal to an all-out anti-government protest over wages and a call for direct democracy in the decision-making process, as opposed to representative democracy. One idea broadly supported by the yellow vests is the citizens’ initiated referendum. Upon gathering enough signatures or supporters, citizens of a country can submit or repeal a law proposal, modify the constitution or remove any politician from office. Citizens’ initiated referendums are already used in the United States, Italy or Switzerland.
Among the protesters’ demands are the increase of the minimum wage, the indexation of wages on the rate of inflation, the inclusion of the citizens’ initiated referendum in the constitution, the control of housing prices, a fairer tax system, a minimum pension, retirement at sixty, the end of privileges for politicians, a ban on the sale of national assets to foreign countries or the human treatment of asylum seekers.
V for Violence
The yellow vests protests have been a display of unprecedented police brutality. To this day, eleven protesters have died, two-thousand have been reported injured and sixty of them have suffered crippling injuries such as the loss of fingers, an eye or a hand. There have been scenes of extreme violence from some protesters too. Still, the government's choice to resort exclusively to force over any attempts at a dialogue has been greatly criticised. Amnesty International and the European Commission for Human Rights have expressed their concerns and have urged the French government to explore peaceful avenues in an effort to prevent further casualties.
We need a resolution
After one month of protests, Emmanuel Macron announced the repeal of the fuel tax and an 8% increase of the minimum wage, in a vain effort to put an end to the protests. His refusal to reinstate the wealth tax, one of the symbols of the protesters' anger, highlights the rift between the people and their representatives. Emmanuel Macron and his government are hoping to see the movement lose momentum and eventually die. The yellow vests already have a foot in the door, but they need more support if they hope to achieve anything significant.
The yellow vests movement is now expanding beyond France's borders, as far as Australia. However, in some countries the only similarity with the French movement is the colour of the protesters' vests, not the ideas or the message behind them. The yellow vests movement is a crisis of democracy, or lack thereof. Giving people what they want, to be heard, would cost the French president his term, as would maintaining his political agenda. Emmanuel Macron can leave with his head up or risk losing it altogether.
'Tonight, I’ll be eating spaghetti carbonara with fried onions and diced pancetta from Luigi’s Mansion in Fremantle. Ding-dong!’
Everybody has seen at least one of these spots for Uber Eats on TV. My favourite is Boy George’s, I laugh every time. The hand you see handing over the food at the end of the commercial belongs to one of Uber’s delivery drivers. Uber calls them their ‘partners’ (understand employees with no social benefits). This delivery driver is a worker of the gig economy.
Disclaimer here: I already picked on Uber in my second blog post Lessons we can learn from Blade Runner 2049. I’m using the example of Uber again because of the abundance of information available about the company. Unfortunately, most of it came to light following the numerous scandals Uber got themselves into.
What is the gig economy and how does it work?
The gig economy refers to a type of employment based on a succession of short-term contracts or projects. Most industries have been affected by it: transport, healthcare, hospitality, professional services, and even the public sector. Online platforms such as Uber, Airtasker or Airbnb have been a massive hit with consumers. And for good reasons. They're cheap, convenient and easy to use.
The main appeal of the gig economy is the false promise of flexibility. ‘Be your own boss’, ‘work when you want, as much as you want’, ‘unlimited earning potential’ blah blah blah. The 'flexibility' really is for the employer, not the worker. I got lured into this myself when I started working as a personal trainer in a big gym. But this story is for another day.
Uber's business model is an abomination
Most people probably ignore how Uber manages to offer transportation services so much cheaper than taxis. Uber’s business model relies on cutting costs and exploiting taxation loopholes as much as they can in order to slash their prices and kill all competition. All the risks and running costs are passed onto the drivers, who are hired as subcontractors.
Because gig workers are considered self-employed, they are not entitled to social benefits such as holiday or sick leave and superannuation. Workers are paid per ‘gig’, or job, no matter how long it takes them to do the task. Unions representation is a problem too, as the status of gig workers is a grey area that needs to be clearly defined.
On a platform like Airtasker, workers bid against each other to get jobs, most of the time based on the cost of the service provided. Which as a result brings the cost of labour significantly down as most of the time whoever is the cheapest gets the job. The result of this race to the bottom is that it keeps wages down.
Back to the future
Uber started to operate in Australia in late 2012 without any licence. To make things worse, thanks to a clever tax scheme, Uber is paying virtually no taxes in Australia. In 2015, Uber was legalised in all states except Northern Territory (it happened last year), and the Australian Taxation Office decided that all drivers should pay GST from the first dollar they earn. For the sake of comparison, if you had started your own business in 2012 without any licence and had paid the same amount of taxes that Uber did, you'd most likely be in prison by 2015. This is called a double standard.
Where the gig economy has been the most disruptive is in going backwards on decades of struggle for fair wages and workers’ rights and entitlements. An increasing number of companies are hiring people on a subcontractor employment basis so they don’t have to pay for entitlements such as holiday leave or superannuation. The gig economy is here and it's here to stay.
The government turned a blind eye because Uber was ‘creating’ jobs. Insecure and underpaid jobs. One of the government’s roles is to set the rules for its economy and to ensure workers are treated fairly. By failing to respond to the changes happening to the work place, the government is responsible for the precarious situation so many workers find themselves in.
Between the gig economy and the casualisation of work, full-time employment and the benefits that go with it may one day be a thing of the past. Ask yourself if this is what you want for your kids when they grow up. Remember that when you take an Uber or when you order food through Uber Eats, you are supporting their exploitative practices with your own money. So tonight, after you've read the usual bedtime story, tell your kids to start saving for retirement right now. Just in case.
Wether you decide to build your new home or renovate an old house, you will need the services of a professional builder. Building a home is a considerable commitment. The process can be long, stressful and expensive. This is why it is crucial that you take the time to choose the right builder that will make your dream house a reality.
Shortlist potential builders
Once you have decided where you are going to build your house, make a list of potential builders in the area where you intend to build your house. Make a list of builders who are experienced in your type of project. If you are renovating an old house, search for builders who are experienced in renovation projects. If you are building your home, search for builders who are experienced in building houses.
Expand your search to builders outside your area. Word of mouth and referrals are powerful tools when it comes to choosing a builder. Check their online websites and look at their portfolios. You can check online if a builder is registered via Housing Industry of Australia or the Master Builders of Australia.
You want to choose a builder who specialises in the type of house you want to build. Looking at current and past projects will help you determine if one builder is more suited for your project than another. For example, if you want a modern double-storey house, a builder who specialises in vintage single-storey homes may not be the best pick.
Share your vision
Once you have shortlisted potential builders, it is time to approach them with your project scope so they can give you a quote. Your project scope is what your vision is for the house you’re building. It is important that you give them detailed plans about what you want. Meet up with your architect, your potential builder and any other people involved in the project to make sure everybody is on the same page.
Write down all the questions you can think of and ask them to the builder when you meet up. Ask how long the project will take. Ask about the materials they use. High quality materials means a quality home.
Ask them if you can talk to their current clients. If they refuse, nothing prevents you from going in person and have a chat with people who had their house recently built by that same builder. Ask them if there have been any issues such as delays, extra costs or bad customer service. Were they happy with their overall experience with the builder and do they recommend them?
Get a comprehensive quote
The next step is to compare the quotes you get from the different builders you have approached. Make sure your builder gives you a comprehensive quote. If the quotes are similar in price, it means the price for your project is probably right. If a quote is significantly cheaper than the others, there might be a reason for that. The materials may not be the same or some items may not have included in the quote. Double and triple check.
The two things to pay attention to when you read a quote are prime costs and provisional sums.
Prime cost refers to specific items that will be required at a late stage in the building process such as lights, doors, fittings, taps or toilets. The builder should include an estimate of the price in the quote. They will most likely quote you for standard items. However, if you decide to go for high quality products, you will have to pay extra for the difference.
The best thing to do to avoid extra expenses is to give as many details as possible to the builders regarding what you have in mind for those items. If you already know the models or the brands you want, they will take this into account in their quotes.
Provisional sums are an estimate of the cost of materials and work that needs to be done. Builders are required by law to give you an accurate estimate for provisional sums. Even then, there can be unexpected circumstances that require the work to take more time than planned in the first place. One example is a soil that needs more work than the builder anticipated. In any case, it is best to leave a little bit of room in your budget for the unexpected.
Before you sign your building contract
There will be hurdles along the road. A good builder should work with you and offer solutions to any of the problems you encounter during the building process. They should always be available to answer your questions and give you updates. A lack of communication on their behalf is a red flag. Remember that as long as you haven’t signed your building contract, you can walk away at any time. Finally, always seek legal advice before signing your building contract.
With the decline of the mining industry, many of the workers who lost their jobs in the mines turned to the construction industry because of the low barriers to entry and a relative employment security compared to mining jobs. Construction is now the first source of employment for male workers in Australia with 9 out of 10 construction workers being men.
In 2018, there were 1.2 million people working in the construction industry in Australia. This is just under 10% of the total workforce. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of workers in the industry has increased by almost 20%. This number is expected to increase by another 10% between now and 2022, which is very encouraging for the future of the industry.
Full-time employment in construction is better than in most industries
Construction fares better than other industries when it comes to the number of workers working full time. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the national average across all industries is around 70% of full time workers. In the building industry, there are 85% of full time workers, which makes it the second best industry for full time employment after mining. This is quite impressive, in particular compared to the national average.
However construction is also the industry with the most self-employed workers with 1 out of 3 construction workers being self-employed. Regarding weekly hours and earnings, full time construction workers work an average of 41 hours a week and they earn on average $1,250 per week before taxes.
Trades and young workers are the most represented
Still according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the top 10 occupations in terms of people employed are carpenters, electricians, managers, plumbers, painters, labourers, plasterers, concreters, surveyors and plant operators. Together, they account for half of all the people working in the industry. Trade services represent 65% of the total number of people employed in the industry.
The building industry is also the first source of employment for young workers. 45% of the workers are 15 to 34 years old. 35% of the workers are 45 years old and older. Finally, only 20% of the workers are 35 to 44 years old.
In conclusion, construction is a fairly young industry that is dominated by male workers. It has the second greatest proportion of full time workers of all industries. The number of people employed has been increasing in the last few years and should keep increasing steadily in the next couple of years.
The construction industry is at the origin of the houses we live in, the schools our children go to or the roads we travel everyday. The main activities focus on building, maintaining and repairing a wide range of diverse structures such as houses, buildings, roads, railway, bridges and many more. The construction sector plays a major role in the Australian economy.
The industry can be divided into three categories: residential, non-residential and engineering construction. Residential construction refers to houses and apartment buildings. Non-residential construction includes facilities such as hospitals, shops, offices, entertainment and industrial facilities. Engineering construction designates infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, bridges and buildings. The engineering construction activity represents the largest part of the industry. More than half of the revenue generated comes from engineering construction.
How construction affects other industries
The construction industry is directly linked to other industries such as transport, manufacture or retail. Many people are involved at the different stages of a construction project. Architects and engineers are involved at the design phase.
When construction starts, contractors and subcontractors work together to complete the project. To build a house or any other structure, they need building materials such as bricks and timber which is provided by suppliers and then delivered by transportation companies. They also need plant and equipment to complete the works, from heavy machinery to hand tools, which they purchase or hire from manufacturers and retailers. Tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers or landscapers are also involved at different stages of a construction project and are regularly required for maintenance purposes after construction is complete.
Another phase of a construction project is the sale of the house or the building. Buyers and sellers involved in the sale process require the services of professionals such as real-estate agents, bankers and lawyers. Finally, the newly built house or building then needs to be equipped with furniture and appliances from local retailers.
Construction as the bellwether of the economy
There is a strong connection between the construction industry and the other industries it supports. When the building sector slows down, it is all the people directly and indirectly involved in the industry who see their activities slow down as well. As such, the construction industry is like the barometer of the economic health of our country.
We talk of underemployment when people work less hours than they would if they were employed full time or when their occupation doesn’t match their skills or education level. Let’s take two examples to illustrate this definition.
Our first example is a worker who would like to work more hours than he or she currently does but can’t get full time employment. This often leads the individual to cumulate jobs if the number of hours worked is not enough to meet their basic needs.
Our second example is a qualified worker who can’t find a job in his or her area of expertise and is forced to take a job that is below their skills or education level. For example a university graduate who works as a delivery driver because he can’t find a job in his area of expertise. This is what we refer to as an overqualified worker.
The relation between unemployment and underemployment
Underemployment has been steadily going up for the last 30 years. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were more than 1.1 million workers who were considered underemployed in the first half of 2018. This represents about 9% of the working population. In comparison, the underemployment rate in the 1980’s was only 3% of the working population, almost 3 times lower than what it is today.
In order to get a complete picture of the current employment situation in Australia, we need to consider unemployment and underemployment figures together. The combination of both is called the underutilisation rate. It is the proportion of the workforce that is not utilised by the economy. With the unemployment rate at 5.3% in the first half of 2018, we add up the underemployment rate and the result is an underutilisation rate of about 14%. This means that 1 out of 7 people of the Australian workforce is either unemployed or working part-time.
Young workers and women are the first concerned
Underemployment is directly linked to the economic health of the country. As such, underemployment and unemployment have evolved together in the 2000’s. However, the gap between the two seems to have increased significantly over the last 3 years. While unemployment figures have been slightly going down since 2015, underemployment figures have maintained their steady upwards trend. This means it is very likely that we see double digit rates in the number of underemployed people in the next couple of years.
Workers aged 15 to 24 and workers with the lowest skills or education levels are the first affected by underemployment. Individuals living in rural areas are more likely to be affected by underemployment than people living in cities. What’s more, 6 out of 10 underemployed people are women. People who were or are currently underemployed are also more likely to be underemployed in the future.
What are the causes of underemployment?
One of the main causes of the rise in the number of underemployed workers is that the number of part-time jobs has been growing faster than the number of full-time jobs. From the 1990’s, there has been a shift in the dominant industries from mining and manufacturing to services such as retail, health and tourism. The nature of work has slowly changed and a lot of full time jobs have been replaced by part-time jobs.
When we look at the proportion of part-time jobs across various industries, this transition from traditional full time employment to more casual part-time employment is quite clear. Between 2012 and 2018, the accommodation and food services industry has been the third industry to create the most jobs, behind healthcare and construction. However, it is also the industry where we find the highest number of part-time workers. In the first half of 2018, more than 60% of all the jobs were part-time jobs.
The situation is very similar in the retail sector. Retail is the second biggest industry with the most people employed, and part-time jobs account for more than 50% of all jobs. Healthcare and social services, which I mentioned earlier, is the industry with the most people employed in Australia. It is also the industry that has created the most jobs in recent years. However, 45% of the people employed in healthcare and social services work part-time.
There are other causes that explain why underemployment is going up. Advances in technologies and automation have reduced the number of workers required to do the same amount of work. For example in manufacturing. The high cost of labour means that it is more affordable for a business to employ two workers on a casual basis rather than a full-time worker for the same number of hours.
Competition, changes and uncertainty in the market place means businesses have to adapt if they want to be successful. Businesses need to be more efficient in order to stay competitive. They need employees who are ‘flexible’, who can work more hours when business is booming and fewer hours when things slow down.
The consequences of being underemployed
The first consequence of underemployment is that it creates a situation of job insecurity and financial instability for the workers. The number of hours worked and the income perceived can vary from one week to the next depending on the need for workers and how business is going. Jobs that offer irregular working hours and variable income put workers at risk when they don’t have other sources of revenue. This can become problematic when applying for a mortgage for example.
The second consequence of high underemployment is that it keeps a lid on wages growth. When people think that a part-time job is better than not having a job at all, they are less likely to negotiate their wages or ask their employer for a pay raise. The increasing number of workers who would like to work more hours holds wages down. Low wages growth means households have less money to spend which eventually has a negative impact on the economy.
How to avoid becoming underemployed?
The good news is that solutions to the problem of underemployment exist. At the government level, developing policies that provide incentives for companies that hire full-time workers rather than part-time could prevent further growth. However, workers themselves can minimise the risks of being affected by underemployment by being proactive. They need to adapt to changes and new trends in their business place. This means keeping their skills current and relevant for the market. This is achieved through ongoing education, extra training and additional experiences.
Casual is the new normal
Full-time employment is becoming a thing of the past. Casual employment is becoming the norm in a lot of industries such as healthcare, retail or hospitality. Working part-time can be a personal choice and not all workers in this situation necessarily want to work more hours. However, while this ‘casualisation’ of work allows businesses to be more flexible and efficient, it also puts more stress on the workers and can lead to precarious situations for many of them.
Looking at the numbers, it appears that the jobs are there, that jobs are being created. The three industries mentioned above are employing more and more people every year. The problem seems that despite the number of jobs, there aren’t enough hours for the workers. It will be interesting to see how many jobs will be created this year, and more importantly what proportion of these new jobs will be full-time.
Blade Runner 2049 is a science-fiction movie that follows the story of agent K, a Los Angeles police officer whose task is to track down rogue replicants. Replicants are mass-produced bioengineered humans that are used as slave labour workers. It is the sequel of the original Blade Runner movie that came out in 1982. As the name suggests, the story takes place in 2049.
The movie offers a very pessimistic vision of the future, or a dystopia (as opposed to a utopia). It shows us what the world could look like if some of the problems we are facing now get worse. It addresses the issues of over-reliance on technology, the impact of man on the environment, overpopulation in urban areas and corporate power over democratic governments.
Overpopulation and unaffordable housing
The Los Angeles of 2049 is an overpopulated urban area made of giant buildings as far as the eye can see. There are no parks or any green spaces and the few animals we see are replicants, or artificial animals. It is a place where concrete has taken over nature. It is a society in which a full-time worker can only afford a tiny apartment in a dodgy neighbourhood.
The main character K (Ryan Gosling) lives in a apartment so small that it looks more like a prison cell than a proper apartment. One can’t help but wonder if this is what unaffordable housing will lead to in the future. In addition to house prices, low wages growth and an increasing job insecurity, owning a house will soon become the realm of science-fiction too.
Technology doesn’t necessarily mean progress
The society of Blade Runner 2049 relies heavily on technology, such as flying cars or holographic female companions. The main character K shares his life with a hologram named Joi. Joi is an artificially intelligent product whose purpose is to bring consumers happiness and companionship. There is a sense throughout the movie that technology has become toxic. To the environment first, and to the people who have become addicted to it, as seen in the main character K’s addiction to his holographic girlfriend.
Technology doesn’t necessarily mean progress. The mistake is to believe that because a new technology is available we should always use it. However we should carefully weigh the pros and cons of using a new technology and consider its long-term impact on employment, the environment and society in general. If a technology allows us to do the same amount of work with half the number of employees but puts millions of people out of work, should we use it? If a technology allows us to be more productive at the expense of the environment, should we use it?
Uber is today’s Wallace Corporation
Too many companies try to squeeze every single drop of life out of their employees in exchange of a minimum wage or questionable employments contracts. In Blade Runner 2049, the Wallace Corporation is the company that manufactures the replicants (the artificial humans) and uses them as slave labour workers. When a replicant rebels against the corporation, they are ‘dealt with’ (tracked down and killed) by the police.
A company like Uber is the Wallace Corporation of today. Their ‘partners’ as Uber calls them (understand employees with no social benefits) work for crumbs and can have their contracts cancelled at any time. An increasing number of companies are hiring people on a subcontractor employment basis because they don’t have to pay for entitlements such as holiday leave or superannuation.
Because something is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical
It is no secret, Uber’s ultimate goal is to get rid of all drivers and use self-driving vehicles instead. Removing the human factor altogether will reduce costs and increase profits. Which raises the question of ethics in business. Are employees considered assets that need to be looked after or overheads that need to be reduced to the minimum? With great power comes great responsibility. The growing power of corporations over governments gives them the responsibility to adopt ethical practices such as looking after their employees and the environment.
Blade Runner 2049 was released last year, 35 years after the original Blade Runner movie. The same issues are addressed in both movies, and the idea that in another 35 years we may still be facing the same problems is a great cause for concern to me. As a conclusion, let’s take a minute and reflect on this quote from the movie: ‘Every leap of civilisation was built off the back of a disposable workforce.’