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Feb 29, 2024

Sorry, Disconnected

Sometimes, governments make decisions that have unintended consequences that impact the practical ways certain industries work. Canberra’s latest effort to over-regulate comes in the form of changes to the Fair Work Act that formalise an employee’s ‘right to disconnect’. The changes effectively mean an employee may refuse to monitor, read or respond to contact from an employer outside of the employee’s normal working hours. As an employer, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an employee to ignore my phone call after hours, and unless it was a serious emergency, I wouldn’t be calling them after hours anyway. But, do we really need to make a law for it? For the real estate industry, the implications could be significant. The business of real estate – sales or property management – doesn’t happen during usual business hours. The laws extend to an employee (sales representative or property manager) refusing to monitor, read or respond to contact from a third party if the contact relates to their work. This includes contact from vendors, tenants, buyers and lessors. The obvious issues for national companies operating in Western Australia have been neatly overlooked by east coasters with the 3-hour time difference in summer could mean an effective workday starting in midday in Melbourne and Sydney and ending here two hours later. The changes could result in lost business if employees refuse to take urgent calls on a critical matter, such as a live sale negotiation. And what about a matter concerning safety at a property where property or person is at risk where a worker is required to manage such emergencies? The new laws are set to become law in July this year. After which, a tenant, needing assistance to get into their home after losing their keys at 6 pm can expect no reply from their property manager. A vendor, - in theory - wanting to know how Saturday’s home open went, can’t demand a response from their sales agent until Monday morning. As a result, many real estate employees will ignore the new laws and carry on providing service to their clients, tenants and buyers outside normal working hours. It won’t be until something goes wrong with the employer / employee relationship that challenges might arise. Employers could find themselves in strife with the Fair Work Commission if a disgruntled employee claims they were expected to work outside normal business hours without the right to disconnect. Employees working from home further muddies the water given these arrangements enable a degree of flexibility that transcends normal work hours anyway. Time will tell what impacts come from these laws that seem to be an answer to a question no one ever really asked.

Nov 30, 2023

Giving at Christmas

Giving at Christmas The National Hotel and St. Patrick’s Community Support Centre held their legendary Long Table Christmas Dinner on Saturday 24th November and raised much-need funds to assist those without a place to call home. A shout-out to Karl and Janine Bullers for their inspiration. You see evidence of homelessness everywhere every day. I hear that Fremantle has a resident population of about 120 rough sleepers. Such is the confronting nature of homelessness that some of us opine that those in authority must ‘move them on’, put them elsewhere to make our lives less confronted. But this just locates the problem elsewhere. Family break-down, domestic and family violence, job-loss, addiction and untreated mental health issues all contribute to homelessness and most of us can’t imagine ever being amongst their number. It has been said we’re all a handful of catastrophic life events away from homelessness. It is not an incurable disease; it is rarely a choice and it can be overcome. There are dozens of organisations whose sole purpose is to help transition the homeless back into secure, affordable housing. Local heroes like St Pat’s do extraordinarily good work in supporting Fremantle’s homeless. Yet St. Pat’s is constrained by funding, they never have enough beds to house the needy and, amongst many other organisations, can only do so much with their small army of volunteers. REIWA members, through the Community REInvest program provide financial help to the Salvation Army’s various homeless assistance measures. So far, REIWA agents have donated more than $1,200,000. Local agents, Caporn Young, White House and Dethridge Groves support this program and I encourage other REIWA member agencies to join. Current government social housing systems mean eligible applicants can wait up to eight years to get into suitable housing. According to various sources, 60,000 households need social and affordable homes in WA, yet despite the overwhelming need for housing, 1 in 6 homes nationally remain underutilised. The state government has pledged to build 3300 more social homes within the next four year which should help but this is really only playing catch up. There are already 8,000 fewer privately owned investment homes in market now than a year ago. For every government-supplied home, mum and dad investors supply ten. Part of the solution to finding affordable homes for those on struggle street is to incentivise these modest investors. How about removing stamp duty for those that commit to buying affordable rental properties or guaranteeing attractive rent returns in exchange for providing affordable rents. Perhaps early access to superannuation with guaranteed buy-back at pre-determined returns into the future. The great work of benevolent groups is laudable, but investors need more encouragement in solving homelessness.