Non-Government Organisation Community Sector

June 23 2010


The Hon. T.A. JENNINGS (16:49): I move:

1.That this council notes—

(a)that the South Australian non-government organisation community sector relies heavily on state government funding for delivery of services and payments of wages to workers in the industry and that this emotionally taxing labour which is most often performed by women workers is critical to the fabric of our community and to a broader goal of women’s pay equity in Australia;

(b)that the significant value of this labour is not always reflected in the pay those in the community sector receive and that consequently community sector workers’ unions lodged an equal remuneration order with the regulator in March this year and that Fair Work Australia will hold hearings into that pay claim later this year;

(c)that a similar pay equity case conducted in Queensland in 2008 resulted in pay increases of up to 37 per cent for workers in this same sector; and

(d)that as of 18 June 2010 the Victorian government has agreed to back higher rates of pay for community sector workers in a deal where that government would underwrite salary parity for the community sector.

2.That this council calls on the Treasurer and the Minister for Families and Communities to fund the community services sector sufficiently to address this pay inequity still endured by South Australian community sector employees regardless of the outcome of the Fair Work Australia case so that South Australia can join Queensland and Victoria in fully recognising the valuable work of the non-government organisation community sector.

This motion deals with the community sector, which does incredibly valuable work, and also with the issues of pay equity, particularly the fact that women are paid less than men in this country in 2010.

The community sector employs over 200,000 people nationally and 87 per cent of those people are women. In the last three months to February 2010, the federal Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, which is a federal government agency of the ABS, noted that nominal earnings for females increased by 0.8 per cent compared with an increase of 1.4 per cent for males. Over the year to February 2010, nominal earnings for females increased by 4.5 per cent compared with an increase of 6.4 per cent for males. So not only is there already a wage gap that is gender-based, it is in fact growing.

I would like to talk a little about the community sector. It is a sector I have worked in for many years and it is a sector that is very valuable. It does the most valuable work, I think, that we see undertaken. The non-government community sector is marked by the fact that a lot of the NGO sector is doing charitable and good works and, if they were not doing these jobs, we would have to find somebody else to do them.

I would like to share with the council some stories about workers from this sector. I would like to talk to you about Mary, which is not her real name but it is a woman's name because as I have already mentioned there is an 87 per cent chance that this person working in the community sector would be a woman. She works for a community accommodation organisation. She works in a community home shared by two adult males and two adult females, all of whom have multiple and serious physical and intellectual disabilities. She thinks of these people as clients but also she thinks of them as friends.

Two of her clients are in a wheelchair; they are unable to move about unassisted. The other two clients have limited mobility unassisted. One of the clients is unable to eat and has to be fed through a gastric tube. All four require complex combinations of medications to be administered throughout each day and, in order to perform the duties required to assist these clients with their day-to-day living, Mary has undertaken TAFE studies and she has qualified to at least the same level required of our tradespeople.

Mary works a full-time equivalent but her shifts are spread across a 24-hour seven-day a week roster including all public holidays. Additionally, often Mary is required to sleepover at a house, and that is an average of two nights a week. She has undertaken further courses in the administration, for example, of medication and gastric feeding. There are critical staffing shortages in this sector which means that Mary quite often has to do more sleepovers than this and work extra shifts. The extra sleepovers are problematic because Mary has her own two young children. Her partner also works shift work, so finding a babysitter who can do overnight extra nights at very short notice is quite difficult.

The organisation that employs Mary cannot afford to pay for the extra shifts, so they offer her a time off in lieu (TOIL) arrangement but Mary has often accumulated many weeks worth of TOIL. She can often work 50-plus hours a week for many weeks in a row. There are two staff members working together, in Mary's case, at all times but the staffing shortage means that Mary often has to work with the agency staff and that workers from the agency are not trained to administer medication and do gastric feeds, so Mary has to pick up all of those duties alone.

I will talk about another woman, Lyn (again, not her real name), who works in the community services sector. Lyn has multiple university qualifications. She works for a faith-based NGO and provides free financial counselling services to people in financial difficulty. There is a maximum income limit for those who wish to use Lyn's services.

Lyn notes with some irony that many of her clients actually earn more than she does. She stays with her employer because she believes in the work she is doing. Her employer is a good employer with great family friendly provisions and, because she can, as Lyn is the supplementary income earner in her household and her family does not rely solely on her income for day-to-day living expenses, she is able to continue doing that job.

On the other hand, Michelle is not in such a financially viable position. Both she and her partner work in the NGO community sector. Michelle has been doing the same job for six years, but her contract is only renewed for 12 months at a time, due to the process of tendering and the nature of this industry's short-term contracts. Her partner is currently working in a casual job.

Michelle loves her job, but she and her partner would like to buy a house. The reality for them is that over the last few years they have been rejected by several banks because neither of them has job security, yet she has been working in this industry in the same job for six years. I know Michelle is looking to move from the community sector because, if she wants a house for her family, she will need to find another sector to work in.

In 2010, as many members would be aware, there will be a pay equity test case that uses the new equal remuneration laws in the Fair Work Act 2009. This will be the first pay equity case heard before our new federal industrial relations body, Fair Work Australia. It is no surprise to members here that the reason it is the first cab off the rank is that the situation is so dire. It will be run by the ACTU and supporting unions will include, of course, the Australian Services Union.

A similar pay equity case was held in Queensland in May 2009, where they increased their social and community services and crisis and supported housing state award rates by between 18 per cent and 37 per cent as a result of the finding that they had pay inequity.

I note at the moment that deputy prime minister Julia Gillard seems to have come to the support of the community sector by saying that the Australian government has now agreed to work with the ASU to support Fair Work Australia in developing an appropriate equal remuneration principle for the federal jurisdiction and to provide research, such as labour market information, to assist Fair Work Australia in determining the pay equity claim.

In referring its industrial matters to the federal jurisdiction, Queensland ensured that the pay equity decision would be protected there. That is good news for Queensland's community services workers. There is also good news for Victoria's community services workers. On 19 June, the Victorian premier John Brumby pledged his government's support for pay equity for the community sector when he said:

We will factor in any wage increases into our service agreements with the community services organisations and ensure those wage increases are passed onto workers. This emotionally taxing labour—often performed by women—is critical to the fabric of our community, and the value of this labour is not always reflected in the pay they receive [because this is seen as traditionally women's work].

I urge the Rann government to look to the lead of the Bligh and Brumby governments, to look to the women of this country and to work for pay equity in South Australia.

In commenting on this issue, I note the words of St Vincent de Paul National Council Chief Executive Dr John Falzon, who said:

It is up to all of us in the community sector to ensure that this translates into appropriate government funding measures so that workers are valued in their daily work with people who are pushed to the margins of society.

There has been support from employers in the past; and that was the great example in Queensland where we saw the Queensland pay equity employers group speaking out in support of the Queensland pay equity case. It is also speaking out in support of the corresponding federal case that is pending.

The Queensland pay equity employers group has a membership consisting of peak bodies, employer associations, employers and unions in the community services sector in Queensland, and they have said:

Pay equity means better services for vulnerable Queenslanders. We support the principle of pay equity. Our sector delivers high quality services to the most vulnerable Queenslanders. Non-government community services make a significant contribution to our civil society by making it fairer, more just, and improving the lives and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders. Without pay equity and funding to match, those services and that contribution are at risk.

Again, I urge in this motion that the Rann government look to give an assurance that it will match in its funding to the community sector the ability for any pay equity decision reached to be met by corresponding increases to funding particular programs that go to the community sector.

I would also like to urge the Rann government to uphold the calls of the community with respect to the Healthy State campaign (which is also part of this issue) to ensure that community sector workers are not continually put on short-term contracts; that they do not have to leave the sector because they do not know from month to month whether or not they will be continuing in a program. We need longer-term funding arrangements to be made. We also particularly need funding arrangements for community sector workers who do work with the most vulnerable in our community. We need to give them assurances that, when a program finishes, we will have at least made a decision whether or not that program is going to continue before the program finishes—a few months ahead would be nice, but even by the date would be quite good as well.

At the moment—and it has been my experience from working in this sector—sometimes you wait a month, two months, six months, up to a year to find out whether or not the program will continue. What happens in the meantime is that, of course, the charity sector (often faith-based organisations but not always faith-based organisations) pitch in with their own money—money from bequests, money that should have been guaranteed by the government. So, that longer-term funding and a commitment to ensuring that we pay our community sector workers enough so that they do not qualify for the services they are delivering would be good. I commend this motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. B.V. Finnigan.


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