Volunteers and the Equal Pay Claim
24 June 2011 at 11:09 am
Australia’s informal, unpaid or non-professional modes of care work should not be forgotten in the current equal pay claim for community workers.
The call comes in a new public policy paper published by the Brotherhood of St Laurence called Valuing Care in Australia- Achieving pay equity in the social and community services sector by James Allebone.
Social and community services (SACS) workers are currently fighting for a substantial increase in their award wages.
The Equal Remuneration Case before Fair Work Australia (FWA) is an historic one which seeks to rectify decades of undervaluation. The pay gap between SACS workers and comparable workers in government employment has recently been acknowledged by FWA (2011); however, an equal remuneration order is yet to be handed down.
Allebone says it will be argued that the low pay endemic to the SACS sector is primarily the result of two factors: the sector’s link to its volunteer past, and its highly feminised character, of which only the latter has been thoroughly considered in the present pay equity case.
Allebone’s paper outlines the relationship between volunteerism and gender pay inequity in the SACS sector, and details the evolution of the current pay equity case.
The paper says that apart from the inherent value of informal care work to individuals, families and communities, in 2010 unpaid care workers undertook some 1.32 billion hours of unpaid care work; and the total replacement cost of unpaid informal care in Australia is estimated to be $40.9 billion per annum—equivalent to 3.2 per cent of GDP (Access Economics & Carers Australia 2010).
Allebone contends that in pursuing pay equity for remunerated care workers, it is important not to lose sight of the vital, but often hidden, contribution of informal care workers both to society and the economy.
Beyond achieving pay equity, Allebone says that the SACS wage case raises broader questions about the efficacy of the prevailing model of welfare provision in Australia.
For example, the application of national competition policy to, and the privatisation of, social services during the mid 1990s has had a range of detrimental effects. As well as driving down wages, the competitive model has discouraged service providers from sharing knowledge about best practice and has pushed out smaller Not for Profit organisations. Further, in order to retain government funding, providers must engage with a complex system laden with onerous compliance and reporting obligations which drain the time workers spend assisting clients. Allebone says the fact that the government ultimately pays for the vast majority of the costs of service delivery seriously calls into question the privatised, competitive model of welfare.
In light of the inefficiencies and complexities of the competitive model, the widening gender equity gap, the continuing growth of the care sector, the nation’s ageing population, SACS employers’ difficulty in attracting and retaining quality workers, and the professionalisation of care work, it is timely to re-engage in dialogue around the successful aspects of the Nordic ‘care state’ model.
He says the ‘social investment’ and ‘social inclusion’ agendas in Australia provide developing frameworks on which an Australian ‘care regime’ could be built. While different contexts preclude wholesale policy transfer, the Nordic states provide inspiration for future directions in Australia’s journey towards a more inclusive, equal, caring society.
The paper can be downloaded at http://www.bsl.org.au/pdfs/Allebone_Valuing_care_achieving_pay_equity_2011.pdf