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The Cost of Not Paying the Price …

In March this year I wrote a blog post regarding pay equity,  “The price we pay when we won’t pay the price”.  I’m revisiting it today because this is the National Day of Action for Pay Equity that I alluded to in my former post.  Whilst there have been a couple of significant changes, the issues of pay equity are still largely unresolved and need to remain high on our agenda.

The National Pay Equity case has been heard and in unison with the Queensland decision found that the low wages in our sector are largely the result of our predominately female workforce and are thus discriminatory.   The Australian Services Union (ASU) won this battle, but is yet to win the war.  Further submissions to Fair Work Australia are required in June in order to begin the process of remedying pay structures.  The ASU is set to fight yet another battle to thwart this inequity that currently means offering miserly pay rates to our community service staff committed and passionate about their work with vulnerable clients reliant on our services.

So here we are, still working hard for pay equity.  Or, more accurately here is our Union doing so on our behalf.  It must be noted that in Queensland, the case was won, pay rates subscribed and have been honoured by some employers and not by others (for reasons explained but not excused in my previous blog post).

Those of us in Queensland who have employers who have honoured our award wages are in an enviable position in comparison to our state and national colleagues for whom  pay equity is likely to take significantly more time (probably years).  We the collective have clear voices to advocate for all those who work in our sector.  As such we need to get serious about this issue and back our Unions (the QSU and the ASU) fighting for us and our organisations to gain fair wages and appropriate funding to ensure our capacity to deliver quality services to clients.

PeakCare as the peak body for child protection is passionately committed to pay equity and competitive employment conditions for staff in the sector;  partially because this is a fundamental human rights issue and partly because children and families supported by our workforce require quality services and benefit from professional staff valued and supported in their workplaces.

On behalf of PeakCare I’d like to give a massive shout out to the Queensland Services Union (QSU) who in a landmark decision won their Queensland pay equity case in 2008 and also to their National counterpart the ASU having recently won their first coup on their journey to the same outcome.  It is really important to note however that the QSU currently has three thousand  members from a workforce of approximately forty to fifty thousand workers in our Queensland sector who benefit from their advocacy, tireless efforts and subsequent pay equity wins.   This ratio of union members to workers is similar across the nation.

These figures are astounding. Some may say they are a disgrace.

It is high time that workers in our sector honed their advocacy skills to fight for pay equity and subsequent quality improvement in their services.  Given the most significant resource any organisation can offer their clients is their human resources we need to be sure staff on offer are of a high calibre.  The capacity to offer competitive pay rates and employment conditions will go a long way in ensuring this.

It is disheartening to see such low level involvement from our workers in our collective movement for pay equity and service improvement.  Is this an indication of our preparedness to accept such poor conditions and pay rates that we know impacts on our capacity to deliver quality services?

Given the runs on the board so far for our Union with such limited acknowledgement from the workers they are fighting for, imagine what can be achieved if all workers in our sector get behind pay equity and support the union movement supporting them.  Imagine the change possible for our sector if we all collectively sign on the dotted line to become members.  A tiny investment per week from every worker and industry professional in our sector could well lead to an outcome beyond our comprehension!

Why aren’t we more involved, participating and contributing for our collective gain and our capacity to more adequately assist clients by ensuring we have pay equity to attract and retain a skilled and supported workforce?

Why aren’t we acting collectively to ensure quality service delivery for the clients we advocate for on a daily basis?  We all know that the collective has significant power yet we fail to rise up together to stand against injustice and inequity.  There is no time like the present to change our ways.  We need to follow the lead of our Union and their significant achievements.

Part of my role at PeakCare is focused on human resources and organisational development.  I often obtain feedback that PeakCare needs to do more about pay issues, the three year service agreements and other similar contractual issues that impact on organisation’s capacity to retain staff.  Whilst we work hard in dealing with issues relevant to our members and the sector, we do not have the capacity, mandate or person power to tackle industrial or pay equity issues.  What we do have is the Queensland Services Union (QSU) that works tirelessly in fighting for pay equity and fair conditions for workers in our sector.

PeakCare will continue to support the huge efforts of our colleagues at the QSU and their national body the ASU.  Most significantly, we will also continue to encourage all employers and employees in our sector to gain support for their pay issues by signing up for our Union to have a voice, be counted and fight for the right to be a recognised, professional and renumerated workforce.

Congratulations to the many campaigners who joined today nationally with the Australian Services Union and in Queensland through the Queensland Services Union in lending your voice to fighting for pay equity.   An essential voice to ensuring professionalism and competitive employment options for our skilled workforce to enable quality work with clients. We need to expect and accept nothing less.

Lorraine Dupree

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is such an important issue for our sector; not just pay equity, but also how we come together as a sector to work collaboratively to create systemic change. This is at least a little about knowing the capacity of each organization, peak body, union and person to do their bit. I am disheartened to know how few of us are supporting our unions in their efforts to work on our behalf. There is power in numbers!

    Fiona McColl

    June 9, 2011
    • Lorraine #

      Absolutely Fiona there is huge power in numbers. I just loved it at the March when Jill Lang from QCOSS said “If you’re not a member of the Union, you should be.” We need to say it often!

      June 9, 2011
  2. Matt #

    Hi Lorraine.

    I think your post is super important. I really like what you have said about joining the union. Imagine if our sector had full union membership.
    I also like your question ” Is this an indication of our preparedness to accept such poor conditions and pay rates that we know impacts on our capacity to deliver quality services?” I think it is a really relevant question to ask. I wonder why union membership is so low, especially when the sector is meant to value advocacy as a key skill.

    June 15, 2011
  3. Lorraine #

    Funny you should ask that Matt. We discussed the issue of union membership at our CPI Network today and some of the reasons around the ‘hang over of the Joe era’ and other complex factors such as the volunteer ethics of our sector and so forth – that’s a whole other blog post!!! I think we are as a sector beginning to realise the vital importance of our unions. I hope that equates to membership numbers too! Hopefully those joining our sector anew will sign up too and be on board from the outset. I think change is in the wind!!!

    June 16, 2011

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