Editorial: For God's sake

Editorial: For God's sake

I've never related to the famous Forrest Gump quote describing life as a box of chocolates that serves funny surprises to humble humans going about their daily business. When it comes to the channel, the dwindling margin praline is about as unexpected as it gets.

Except, last week, the channel community got struck by a lightning ball when an assembly line worker, Kamal El-Masri, took tier-two PC assembler Total Peripherals Group (TPG) to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, claiming discrimination for not being allowed to pray at the times designated for prayer by his religion. Well, blimey!

Call me a cynic, but these days I get a bit suspicious about so-called political and culturally-sensitive issues that happen to fit neatly into the context of September 11, as this one does. Stories worthy of a double-page spread in mainstream tabloid press make me even more suspicious, but that's another matter altogether.

Refusing to look at the El-Masri story from the hysterical and largely exploited perspective of inter-religious relations in Australia, this is what I see: an employee is facing the sack for strictly adhering to religious practice, which, according to his employer, interferes with his productivity as a worker. Whether there is more to this story than reported, we don't know, as TPG is not commenting on the case. But if the facts of the case are as reported in the press, TPG is the last player in this sad saga that should be targeted by community anger.

As mainstream media continue to go about crucifying the company for its religious insensitivity, the enforcers of political correctness in the workplace are deliberately ignoring the obvious issue underlying TPG's actions - which is that TPG is a business. As such, it is as much concerned with efficiency and productivity as it is with the spiritual contentment of its staff. That is not to say that the company's management should blindly pursue efficiency and productivity by totally disregarding the rights of the employee or the idea of employee satisfaction, but allowing one worker to change workplace rules to suit their individual circumstances sets a risky precedent. Effective workplace management becomes a pipedream when the same workplace rules don't apply to all of your staff.

Funnily enough, the results of a survey published on the same day the TPG story broke indicate that Australian workers waste the equivalent of 90 days a year on non-work activities while in the workplace. This, according to the Proudfoot Consulting-conducted study, translates into some $120 billion in wages paid for the time that is seen by businesses as unproductive. More interestingly, the study claims this unproductive time occurs mainly due to "poor management and a lack of planning and control". So when a company is trying to manage, plan and control its business in order to meet its productivity targets, should it do so at the expense of an employee's religious obligations?

Well, if El-Masri, who was quoted as saying that he'd rather please his God than please his manager, seems to have his mind made up, why crucify TPG for doing the same? After all, for many businesses there is only one belief worth pursuing: profit. And profit depends on productivity and good management. Whether there is a need to challenge this belief is a matter for another discussion. What is certain is that the TPG case poses some important questions about balancing the profit motive with the human side of business and it is an issue that won't simply go away. What's your view?

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