Preventing Workplace Mental Health Injuries Would Save Billions

Australian society is experiencing an epidemic of mental illness that imposes enormous costs on individuals with poor mental health, their families, and the broader economy. There is no doubt that the stress, isolation and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made this crisis even worse.

Unsafe workplaces contribute significantly to the incidence of mental illness and injury. Workplace factors which contribute to mental health problems include unreasonable job demands, exposure to violence and trauma, long or irregular working hours, an absence of worker voice and control, and bullying and harassment.

New research from the Centre for Future Work suggests that by requiring stronger monitoring and prevention measures in Australian workplaces, a significant share of mental illness and injury could be avoided. In addition to reducing the toll of mental illness for workers and their families, these measures would also generate substantial economic and fiscal benefits.

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The Huge Contradiction at the Heart of the Federal Budget

The Commonwealth government has tabled its budget for the 2021-22 financial year. The government is counting on a vigorous and sustained burst of consumer spending by Australian households to drive the post-COVID recovery. Yet the budget itself concedes that the main sources of income to finance expanded consumer spending (namely, wages and income supports) will remain weak or even contract. As shown in the Centre for Future Work's analysis of the budget, these two dimensions of the budget are fundamentally incompatible.

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Commonwealth Has Ample Fiscal Capacity to Implement Aged Care Reforms

Implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will require additional Commonwealth funding of at least $10 billion per year, and there are several revenue tools which the government could use to raise those funds.

That is the conclusion of a new report on funding high-quality aged care released today by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute.

 

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Rage & Optimism as an Activist Economist

Crikey is reclaiming the "angry woman" trope in a new column about what women achieve through rage, passion and determination. In this inspiring and poetic feature with our Senior Economist Alison Pennington, Alison explains how rage about how the economy works (or doesn't work) powers her forceful work as an activist economist.

We are pleased to share the article by Amber Schultz, with kind permission from Crikey media. 

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Senate Committee on Insecure Work

The Senate Select Committee on Job Security was appointed 10 December 2020, to inquire into and report on the impact of insecure or precarious employment on the economy, wages, social cohesion and workplace rights and conditions. This includes the extent of insecure and precarious employment in Australia, the impacts of COVID-19 with respect to job precarity and insecurity, the digitally-mediated ‘gig’ economy, and other matters. The Centre for Future Work has made a submission to the Select Committee.

Economist and Director Dr Jim Stanford and Economist Dan Nahum presented evidence to the Senate Committee hearing in Melbourne on 20 April 2021. The transcript of their testimony is available here.

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Expansion of Employer Power to Use Casual Work Hurts Women Most

As women lead mobilisations against workplace gendered violence, the federal government passed legislation expanding employer power to use insecure, casual labour in its IR bill - laws that will disproportionately impact the pay and security of women's jobs.

In this commentary, Senior Economist Alison Pennington explains how new casuals measures and the government's wider economic policies - including in industrial relations, childcare, welfare, and fiscal spending - significantly undermine the economic security of women, entrench pay inequality, and ultimately, increase their vulnerability to gendered violence. 

This commentary was originally published in Michael West Media

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Surge in Women's Casual Work Widens Gender Pay Gap

New research by the Centre for Future Work released for International Women’s Day (8 March 2021), shows Australia’s recovery from the pandemic recession widened the gender pay gap, as women’s jobs returned on a more part-time and casualised basis than for men.

The report by Senior Economist Alison Pennington shows the influx of women’s lower-earning jobs from May widened the gender pay gap between May and November 2020, and warns that the gap could deteriorate even further in the wake of policies proposed by the Government for 2021: including the further expansion of casual work and reduced pay for part-time workers, tabled in the omnibus industrial relations bill; public sector pay caps for both federal and state employees; and a high-cost, inaccessible childcare system.

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Senate Inquiry Into IR Omnibus Bill

In December 2020, the Senate of Australia launched an important inquiry into the federal government's proposed Fair Work Amendment Bill.

Core features of the legislation include clarifying and expanding employer power to hire workers on a casual basis, obtain greater flexibility in the use of permanent part-time workers (adjusting hours up or down without penalty, much like casual workers), and exercise greater unilateral wage-fixing influence in enterprise agreement (EA)-making.

The Centre for Future Work were glad to make a submission to this inquiry. The submission assesses major components of the legislation, and finds measures proposed will result in the expansion of employer power to use insecure labour and low-wage enterprise agreements, placing further downward pressure on already record-low wages.

Alison Pennington presented evidence in-person to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee in Adelaide on February 10th. A transcript of her testimony is available here

The Centre for Future Work's opening statement to the Senate Inquiry is available here, published through Medium.

Please read our full 32-page submission to the Senate Inquiry here

 

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Omnibus IR Bill Will Accelerate Non-Union Agreements & Further Reduce Wage Growth

The federal government’s omnibus Industrial Relations bill proposes sweeping changes to labour laws which will generally enhance the power of employers to hire workers on a just-in-time basis, and will put further downward pressure on Australian wages (already growing at a record-low rate). One outcome of the bill will be an acceleration of enterprise agreements (EAs) written unilaterally by employers, without negotiation with any union. These non-union EAs will be favoured for several reasons if the omnibus bill is passed: EAs will be exempted from the current Better Off Overall Test, employer-designed EAs will be subject to less scrutiny at the Fair Work Commission, and employers will have less stringent tests to ensure their proposed EAs are genuinely approved by affected workers. All of these changes will lead to a significant increase in employer-designed EAs that reduce compensation and conditions, rather than improving them – signalling a return to the WorkChoices pattern of EA-making.

In a new report, Centre for Future Work Senior Economist Alison Pennington assesses the major ways in which the IR bill will accelerate non-union EA-making, and considers three specific ways this in turn will undermine wage growth in Australia compared with existing collective bargaining laws.

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Migrant Workers Abandoned in the COVID Recovery

COVID continues to sweep Europe and the US, while Australia celebrates near-elimination of community transmission. But Australia’s public health success has not come without significant economic and social hardship for large sections of our community – especially migrant workers. Thousands of migrant workers were pulled off the job to stop the spread of COVID-19, and excluded from key government income support programs including JobSeeker and JobKeeper. Temporary migrant workers are still left without access to Medicare. 

In this short, accessible commentary, Senior Economist Alison Pennington outlines how the pandemic, the resulting recession and government COVID-era policies have increased risks to migrant workers’ financial security, and health and safety. Building more secure, inclusive labour markets can reduce risks that future major events don’t hit the most vulnerable hardest.

This commentary was prepared for presentation to the Migrant Workers Centre Conference, November 2020. 

 

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