Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Restructuring and Women Workers in Australian Home Care

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Restructuring and Women Workers in Australian Home Care

Article excerpt

The aim of this paper is to discuss the effect of industry restructuring on women workers responsible for home care of the aged. Two aspects of restructuring, both initiated in the late 1980s, are considered: award restructuring which sought to place greater emphasis on skilled work and training; and the privatization of human services which amongst other things led to the contracting out of services by government to the non-profit community sector. We argue in this paper that the potentially positive impact of award restructuring on women workers was offset by the negative consequences of privatization. Our research was conducted in Western Australia amongst women workers in community agencies engaged in home care for the aged.

Le but de cet article est de discuter des effets de la restructuration sur les travailleuses responsables des soins a domicile des personnes agees. Deux aspects de la restructuration, tous deux inites vers la fin des annees 1980, sont pris en consideration, soient: la restructuration recompsnee qui tentait de mettre plus d'emphase sur la main-d'oeuvre qualifiee et la formation; et la privatisation des services humains, dont un des resultats a ete le sous-traitement de services par le secteur gouvernemental a la communaute sans but lucratif. Nous presentons donc l'argument suivant dans cet article: que l'impact positif de la restructuration recompensee sur les travailleuses a ete contrebalance par les consequences negatives de la privatisation. Notre recherche a ete menee dans l'ouest de l'Australie parmi des femmes travaillant pour des agences communautaires fournissant des soins a domicile.

The Context: Australia Reconstructed

In the mid-1980s Australia experienced profound changes in its employment and economic organization. The federal government -- in conjunction with the trade union movement -- embarked on a program of Award Restructuring (AR), meant to bring about a complete overhaul of all industrial agreements in order to enhance Australia's productivity and international competitiveness. Also, in line with many other western countries, Australian federal and state governments responded to demands for smaller and less costly government by instituting privatization and de-institutionalization.

Industrial awards and award restructuring

Australia's industrial relations system has been characterized since its inception in 1904 by centralized wage fixing and compulsory arbitration. The system involves a network of federal and state industrial relations courts and commissions responsible for the making of industrial awards. These awards are statutory, legally enforceable agreements that resolve industrial disputes between employers and trade unions, and are ratified by federal or state governments after tripartite deliberations within the commissions. They stipulate in considerable detail most aspects of work conditions and pay, including job specifications, wage rates and leave entitlements. Major modifications to minimum wages for adults, and the principles governing wage determination, have been dealt with in so-called National Wage Cases (NWCs), presided over by the full bench of the (federal) Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC). Industry-specific awards can provide more, but not less, than is stipulated within the National Wage Case. Not all workers are covered by awards, but NWC principles must apply in all cases. Also, in some instances, "award-free" workplaces (where workers are not unionized) adopt pay scales commensurate with organizations within the same industry which have award coverage.(f.1)

In the late 1980s, a general awareness that Australia was falling behind other countries economically led to the notion that, in order to become efficient and productive, the Australian labour market would need to place greater emphasis on skills formation and training. Trade unions suggested it would also be necessary to involve workers as participants in the production process (ACTU-TDC, 1987). …

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