Information Digest – November 2023

Gendered workforces are still very much the norm. The NDIS workforce, early childhood, and cleaning are female-dominated industries. To no one’s surprise, these caring occupations are the lowest paid, and harassment by male bosses and others is more common.

Health and safety issues and decent pay are the focus this month with the ongoing struggle for equal pay and recognition central. Surveys even show that women somehow, even though they are abused and harassed, suffer less – they have “thicker skins”.

Plus, zero emissions cooperation and planning, and struggles and successes in the US and South Korea.


Going Backwards: How NDIS workforce arrangements are undermining decent work and gender equality

Fiona McDonald

The disability support workforce is central to the effectiveness and sustainability of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Hundreds of thousands of NDIS participants rely on this workforce to provide personal support and care on a daily basis.

The NDIS workforce is large and growing, currently employing about a quarter of a million workers, mostly women. Pay, working conditions and career opportunities in the disability support workforce are critical to the future of women’s economic equality in Australia.

It is a decade since the NDIS was first piloted, yet the promise for workers, that the scheme would translate into ‘greater pay, … better working conditions … (and) enough resources to do the job properly’ has not been fulfilled.

Rather, conditions of work in the NDIS are poor and deteriorating.

The design of the NDIS, with its market basis and poor and uneven regulatory oversight, has undermined fair pay and working conditions for disability support workers and is threatening workforce stability.

This briefing paper reviews this evidence and argues for significant reforms to address urgent problems arising from these design flaws and regulatory failures.

Read the full article

ASU welcomes Royal Commission recommendations to strengthen the disability workforce

The Australian Services Union has urged all governments to immediately start implementing recommendations from the Disability Royal Commission after it found a direct connection between secure and stable jobs for support workers and quality services for people with disabilities.

In delivering its final report, the Royal Commission has supported a range of workforce solutions, including portable training and leave entitlements for disability support workers – one of the major goals of the ASU’s own campaign for a better National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The ASU has been campaigning for an ongoing portable training scheme enabling disability workers to regularly access training opportunities and build credentials in specialised topics and sub-disciplines over the course of their careers and we are pleased to see the Royal Commission support this call to action.

“An investment such as this will lead to a more highly skilled and engaged workforce, more successful recruitment and retention by service providers, and much higher-quality service provision to people with disabilities.”

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Centres reveal crisis in early learning: UWU National Report

In August 2023, UWU members launched a Crisis Tracker to map how the ongoing staffing crisis in the sector is affecting educators, families and children. Close to 1000 centres from across the country provided eye-opening and often shocking details about staff vacancies, workloads and pressures on staff, wait times for families and the lengths that services are being forced to go to in the face of the worst staffing crisis the sector has ever seen.

The results of the Crisis Tracker show that, in spite of millions of dollars in additional Federal Government subsidies to make early education more affordable for families, the crisis has only deepened. Educators continue to leave the sector because they simply can’t afford to stay due to low wages, horrific workloads and a genuine concern that the well-being and safety of children is at risk due to the conditions in the sector.

Nationally, the Crisis Tracker has shown clear and shocking trends across every State and Territory.

Staff shortages cause long waiting lists, impact the safety of children, cause poorer educational outcomes and impact on educators wo have low pay and less time to apply and develop skills and knowledge.

View full report here and state by state summaries here

Gendered disrespect and inequality in retail work: A summary of findings

Professor Rae Cooper AO, Dr. Meraiah Foley, Laura Good, Dr. Briony Lipton, Serrin Rutledge-Prior, Amy Tapsell and Ariadne Vromen.; Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative

Examines retail workers’ experiences and perceptions of gendered disrespect and inequality. The findings summarised are based on data collected in interviews with 30 senior industry leaders and stakeholders, including representatives from industry associations and unions, senior managers of major retail employers, retail consultants and other industry experts. It also draws upon the findings of a survey of Australian retail, fast food, and warehouse workers.

Retail work was generally recognised as low skilled, low paid, and highly casualised, all characteristics of a highly feminised workforce, and the skills and capabilities exercised by retail workers were regarded as largely undervalued.

  • Horizontal gender segregation was widely present in the retail industry, with women overrepresented in customer-facing interactive service work and men overrepresented in non-customer facing roles. Such segregation was viewed as limiting women’s ability to acquire the skills necessary for career development and progression.
  • Vertical gender segregation was also recognised as a persistent problem, with men over- represented in senior leadership positions in retail. A lack of career development opportunities, Gendered disrespect and inequality in retail work and long working hours were seen as key factors limiting women’s progression into senior leadership.
  • Abuse and disrespect in retail was found to be gendered in nature, with young female retail workers often targets of sexual harassment. Senior male managers were perceived as common perpetrators of harassment in retail workplaces as were customers in retail stores. Inadequate training, and a lack of support from senior leaders and boards were viewed as barriers to addressing these behaviours.
  • The customer-retail worker relationship was fraught with power imbalances, as evidenced by ongoing customer-perpetrated abuse and sexual harassment in the industry, a phenomenon which worsened during to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stakeholders commented on how customer abuse and harassment has been overlooked by management, prompting a need for more well- defined procedures and better support from employers.

Key findings from a survey of retail workers:

  • Gender differences were evident when investigating voice at work and equal access to career opportunities. Compared to men, women were less likely to perceive that their voice is heard in relation to important matters at work and that they have equal access to leadership roles, pay rises and promotions. Of note, retail workers in permanent employment were more likely to agree or strongly agree that their voice is heard in relation to important matters at work. Conversely, precarious workers were less likely to feel that their voice was heard.
  • Gender and intersectional inequalities were identified in retail workers’ perspective on equal treatment in the industry. Women and casual retail workers were more likely to perceive that women and men were not treated equally in the workplace and that issues of discrimination were not being appropriately addressed. Retail workers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds were more likely to agree that that there is inequality in the workplace, compared to those who only spoke English at home.
  • Gender and employment status influenced worker perceptions of the existence of customer abuse and sexual harassment and how adequately they felt it was being addressed in their workplaces. Women and frontline retail workers were more likely to agree or strongly agree that customer abuse was a problem in the retail industry and less likely to perceive that customer abuse has been adequately addressed. Women were also less likely to perceive that customers treat women and men equally.
  • Our survey indicated that 1 in 5 retail workers have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years, with someone more senior identified as the most common perpetrator of this harassment, closely followed by customers. While women and men similarly acknowledged that sexual harassment was a problem in the retail industry, women were less likely to agree or strongly agree that sexual harassment has been addressed adequately. Casually employed retail workers were also less likely to agree or strongly agree that sexual harassment has been addressed adequately.

Read the full article

Does your employer have to tell if they’re spying on you through your work computer?

Jacqueline Meredith and Peter Holland

“We’re seeing a surge in the use of electronic monitoring and surveillance devices in the workplace. These devices allow managers to “watch over” employees in their absence. This practice raises serious legal and ethical concerns.”

Specific legislation regulates the surveillance of workers in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Importantly, surveillance must not be undertaken unless the employer has provided at least 14 days’ notice. This notice must include specific details about the surveillance that will be carried out. Employers must also develop and adhere to a surveillance policy.

In both states, employers can only record visual images of an employee while they’re “at work”. This is broadly defined to capture any place where work is carried out.

Covert surveillance is prohibited unless the employer has obtained a court order. In this case it’s restricted to situations where the employee is suspected of unlawful activity.

Even then, a covert surveillance order would not be granted where this unduly intrudes on the employee’s privacy. Covert surveillance for the purpose of monitoring work performance is expressly prohibited.

Other states and territories don’t have specific electronic workplace surveillance laws. Employers must instead comply with more general surveillance legislation.

Where an enterprise agreement applies, the Fair Work Commission can arbitrate surveillance disputes. A worker who is dismissed following intrusive surveillance may be able to challenge the dismissal on the basis of it being unfair.

Workers who haven’t been informed of their employer’s surveillance practices can also lodge a complaint with the relevant authority or regulator, who may have powers to investigate and prosecute offences.

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Employee monitoring software became the new normal during COVID-19. It seems workers are stuck with it

James Purtill

In early 2020, as offices emptied and employees set up laptops on kitchen tables to work from home, the way managers kept tabs on white-collar workers underwent an abrupt change as well.

Bosses used to counting the number of empty desks, or gauging the volume of keyboard clatter, now had to rely on video calls and tiny green “active” icons in workplace chat programs.

In response, many employers splashed out on sophisticated kinds of spyware to claw back some oversight.

“Employee monitoring software” became the new normal, logging keystrokes and mouse movement, capturing screenshots, tracking location, and even activating webcams and microphones.

At the same time, workers were dreaming up creative new ways to evade the software’s all-seeing eye.

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Harassment and abuse perceived to harm poor women less − new research finds a ‘thicker skin’ bias

Nathan Cheek

People think sexual harassment and domestic abuse are less harmful for women in poverty than for higher-income women, according to four studies involving 3,052 Americans.

The result was the same whether the woman was white, Black, East Asian or Latina. Both low- and high-income study participants shared this pattern of judgment – as did male and female participants.

Why it matters

There is no data that shows lower-income women are less affected by gender-based violence – in fact, there is evidence they are often more affected.

Women in poverty are more likely to experience sexual harassment and domestic abuse – and have more difficulty finding support after experiencing sexual misconduct. Our research suggests that stereotypes about toughness may contribute to the neglect low-income women encounter when they seek help after violence.

It isn’t that study participants didn’t like the low-income woman. In fact, in our studies, participants rated the low-income woman as friendlier and warmer than the higher-income woman. But liking the low-income woman didn’t prevent participants from thinking the harassment and abuse would be less harmful for her.

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Abuse at work: who bears the brunt?

Agnès Parent-Thirion and Viginta Ivaskaite-Tamosiune

Women and frontline workers in Europe are those most exposed to the risks of adverse social behaviour at work. This includes bullying, harassment, violence, verbal abuse or threats and unwanted sexual attention. Generically, such ‘violence in the workplace’ can have significant impacts on health—mental (burnout, exhaustion, anxiety and depression) as well as physical.

Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 examined the prevalence of adverse social behaviour in the workplace and its health and wellbeing implications for those on the receiving end. The EWCTS is a high-quality, probability-based survey which presents the experiences of more than 70,000 workers in 36 countries.

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United Workers Union survey finds one third of cleaners injured keeping NSW schools clean

Alanna Tomazin

“Taken for granted, burnt out and underpaid” are just some of the ways 300 NSW school cleaners have described their experiences in the United Workers Union’s More Tasks Than Time survey.

The survey, conducted in July and August, included respondents from across Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast with 37 per cent saying they had been injured at work in the last five years, amid contractors cutting back hours.

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Zero Emission Vehicle National Innovation Council: A proposal for a tripartite-led transition to zero emission vehicles


The AMWU is proposing a national coordinating body for Australia’s transition to zero emission vehicles (ZEV) made up of government, industry, climate and energy policy organisations, and the unions covering workers in the industry.

This report recommends a National Innovation Council (NIC) for ZEVs that would take a consensus-based approach to shaping a just transition of carbon-intensive industries to ZEV manufacturing industries.

Through the creation of good jobs and sustainable industries, the ZEVNIC will be an active player in policymaking that delivers for Australian communities in transition, industries undergoing transformation and a sustainable environment long into the future.

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South Korea Declared War on Unions. Workers Are Fighting Back.

Maximillian Alvarez

Within the past two years, South Korea has seen major labor actions. Hundreds of thousands of workers have mobilized in response to multiple calls for general strikes, and the reactionary government of Yoon Seok Yeol has responded in force. This January, the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s equivalent to the FBI and CIA rolled into one agency, raided the offices of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. In that same time, military and geopolitical tensions in the region have been rapidly intensifying. What is going on? What is the state of organized labor in South Korea, and how have imperialist and capitalist pressures, especially from the US, shaped the terrain upon which working people across the Korean Peninsula are struggling to live and work with dignity?

See also

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How California’s Fast-Food Workers Won $20 an Hour

Sonali Kolhatkar

More than half a million fast-food workers in California are about to get a raise—not because of the voluntary generosity of their bosses, but as a result of a hard-won labor victory. Governor Gavin Newsom on September 28 signed AB 1228 into law; its title says it all: “Fast Food Council: health, safety, employment, and minimum wage.”

The origins of this momentous victory can be traced back to a movement that began on the opposite side of the country more than a decade ago. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU)’s Fight for $15 campaign, launched in the form of a walkout in New York City in 2012 demanded a wage floor that, at the time, sounded audacious. While it’s no longer terribly bold to demand $15 an hour in an economy where inflation has disproportionately impacted low-wage workers and where billionaires continue to enjoy unimaginable riches, consider this: there are more than a dozen states in the U.S. where the minimum wage remains pegged to the ridiculously paltry federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

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