Da “Peter” Zheng speaks for an entire generation of working people when he volunteers the elements that make for a good job: full time, stable, on-going employment. That is the stuff with which you can build a life.
Peter studied information technology at RMIT but his first, and so far only job in Australia is as a table games dealer at Crown Melbourne where he has worked for more than six years. He is one of the big winners out of our We Are Crown campaign waged by union members at Crown Melbourne throughout 2013. A new experience-based career structure delivered him a 13 per cent pay rise, with further increases of four per cent to follow over the next two years. These pay increases mean Crown Melbourne staff have retained their place as Australia’s best-paid casino workers.
But it is the stability and security of full time work that he values most fundamentally. As it happens, work is becoming increasingly casualised with thousands of workers increasingly on contracts and in other forms of short term work. Peter is certain this is not in workers’ interests.
But staff at Crown Melbourne are bucking this trend: they won increased job security in their new union agreement. This includes new systems to help protect hotel workers and others at risk of having their jobs contracted out. And part-time workers now have a fair, transparent process to move to full-time employment.
“A job is something you do – it brings an income to enable you to survive. You have to find something. As soon as I am into this industry that’s it. I have a commitment,” says Peter.
“A full time stable job is important these days for people like me, in the early 30s with a young family. With young kids you have very heavy expenses. As the kids grow up you buy more and more.”
Peter, 34, has two children with his wife, Kelly. They both work. They live in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs with Peter’s parents, whom he supports.
Peter migrated from China as a 20-year old who came to Melbourne to study. His experiences in China mean he values his place as a union member and the role of his union, United Voice, in his life.
“Being in a union is very important, particularly in Western countries,” he says. “I was growing up in a communist country and the union over there is just propaganda. They do nothing.
“Here, I can feel being a union member we really can try to do something for ourselves. We can try to get the best working conditions. If we don’t, as a staff, join the union it gives big business a chance to lower their pay and the position on our side will change. It’s important to be united, to have one voice.
As a casino worker and United Voice member he is part of a union that, whether people realise it or not, is part of every day of life in Melbourne. As child care educators, cleaners, hospitality workers and ambulance paramedics, United Voice members keep the city running.
Peter works a permanent morning shift, starting work at 4am and finishing at midday where he returns home to play with his daughter, Jade, and son Jasper. He reckons morning shift is the best option for someone with a young family but he is unfazed by the prospect of other shifts. If you sign on to a job like his then you have to be prepared to work odd hours he says.
Like many working people however, he is troubled by rising living costs. As a two income family Peter and Kelly wonder how any couple with children survives on a single income.
“I don’t do luxury stuff. I don’t go out to restaurants very often. I don’t do holidays often. Whenever I can I pay extra into the mortgage.
“The rest of the money is for bills and at the end of the month there’s nothing left. Plus, we have two incomes. I can’t believe how people with one income can survive. Some unexpected costs will always come up. Your money is always short. A stable job is very important. I have too many friends who work on and off.”
The new enterprise agreement will give him about $100 a week extra in take home pay, but he already knows where it is going.
“Next year my daughter will start prep, so school costs and bills will start, and my son is going to start kinder. It will be easier (with the extra money) because at the moment things are pretty tight. But if I had not got it I would have had to cut somewhere else. For me, it’s a big help,” he says.
“Today, I am going to pick up my daughter’s uniform from her school. There’s the hat, shorts, t-shirts, jackets, skirt.
You have to buy two sets of everything, and everything is $10 or $20. That adds up to a lot of money.”
Peter has a message for Australia. He does not expect hand-outs or a free ride, just a secure job at which he can work hard, and a fair wage for himself as his part of the bargain. It is what most working people want, the chance to live their lives and support their families with a degree of comfort and security.
Business should give its employees a fair share of the wealth they help to generate, he says. “Society gives them the chance to make money, and they have to make a return to society.”