Interview: The Baby Drought
Industrial: Lies, AWAs and Statistics
Workplace: The Invisible Parents
History: Bruce’s Big Blunder
Politics: All God's Children
Economics: Spun Out
International: Shakey Trials
Legal: Civil Distrubance
Review: Crash Course In Racism
Poetry: You're Fired
The Locker Room
An Act of Faith
Remembering Workers In Cairns
Fair Go For Injured Workers
A Question Of Choice
Galahs Up The Cross
The Baby Drought
Interview with Peter Lewis
How is the way that we're changing the way we do our work affecting the way we have families?
Well, its affecting people in different ways. I looked into was how it is affecting women in terms on their capacity to really be free to choose or not to choose to have children and to choose how many children they had and when they had them.
For women things are extremely complex at the moment in terms of trying to fit in having a family. They're finding it quite difficult to find a man with whom to have a child and sometimes that just has to do with luck of the draw. But sometimes it has to do with the objections men are raising to having children, for having children in a timely fashion, which for women, given their biology, is quite critical - or having children at all.
For men it is equally as complex. Sometimes it's just because those men are childless by choice but for some men it has to do with the sorts of stresses they are feeling at work. Men are feeling like they have to work more intensely for longer hours. We know this from data in general that this is what's actually happening in the workforce; but its cashing out in ways that we didn't expect. And one of the ways that it's cashing out is that its making men quite hesitant about having children. You throw that into the mix in terms of laws that are connected to divorce and child support and, again we're having men feeling like, they're very worried about taking the risk of getting involved in a relationship where a marriage might break up. They want to feel extra, extra sure that the relationship is going to last before they go on to have children.
One of the big shifts in the last decade has been the shift away from secure long term jobs to more casual and contract work. Does that turn up in any of your research as being an indicator for people without that secure work base not wanting to make that commitment to have a family?
Yes, it does come up. It doesn't come up with people saying well no I'll never have a family, but what it does come up with is people delaying. It is leading people to delay to this kind of fantasy future where they're going to be a lot more secure and stable and have better incomes.
I also think that we have this really bizarre tendency to talk about women's fertility decisions as though they get made in this strange vacuum where women don't know about what's happening to other women who are having kids and women aren't engaging with the men in their lives about these decisions but that is not in fact true. Women are talking to men and their making these very responsive decisions to what men are telling them and also in these relationships men are telling them not now.
And that's linked to their situation in life?
Linked to a whole range of things but definitely including the stresses that men are experiencing at work and this sense that men still have that for a while at least they're going to have to be the sole provider while the women is on maternity leave and their unclear how long that might be, but they're again also aware that sometimes women are uncomfortable about going back to work. There's that real shortage of child 0care places at the moment so all of these things are kind of going into the mix in terms of the sorts of decisions that women are making.
So it seems like the promise of a flexible workplaces hasn't been that good for families
Well, the promise hasn't! And the reality is that there's not a lot of flexibility. There's a lot of talk about how workplaces are flexible; but in fact they really aren't all that flexible if you could judge from people's real experiences. There's still a sense that it's a lot of talk and this is particularly the case for men. Men are really quite aware that there's what's being said and the truth is that if they go about trying to advantage of what miniscule provisions there might be for taking paternity leave or flexi time or even trying to actually work the hours they are paid for. Even actually trying to work a 40 hour week rather than a 50, 60 or 70 hour work is a challenge because men are amongst the dominant group in terms of those working longer and longer hours.
If they push things they know they will be 'Daddy Tracked'. So the whole notion about 'Mummy tracking' - which is usually what we talk about in terms of women's constrained opportunities at work once they become parents - is not necessarily a gender related thing. It tends mostly to happen to women because women tend to be the ones who mostly look after kids and start to take the knocks at work as a consequence of those responsibilities. But if and when men do actually try to share the work equally, and we've got a small handful of men who do, and a slightly larger handful of men who say they would like to, those men will end up on the 'Daddy Track' in the same way that women will.
It's not actually directly related to gender. It's related to people who are trying to lift their nose up from the grindstone and say I would like to achieve a better balance between what's happening here and what's happening at home. The reality is workplaces today are saying: look, we can replace you. At the moment they say: this is the reality that I can find someone to do what you're telling me that you won't so either I'm going to replace you, and people obviously don't want that to happen or I'm going to make you pay the consequences for the fact that you are not giving me what I want - which is 24/7 availability and commitment. I'm going to treat you as somebody who's saying I'm really not all that serious about my work. My family takes precedence and I'm going to put you on the 'Mummy' or the 'Daddy Track' and you can go and do the less interesting work and you can get paid less and you can miss out on promotions.
Let's go from the other direction. Based on your research, if you were creating a society that encouraged families that wanted to grow the population and give people stable family lives, what sort of work laws would you be constructing? What sort of system of work would we be working towards?
What has happened in terms of the decline in fertility has drawn a lot of attention in the public sphere to this issue. Usually things that tend to affect women, men don't care! Women have been screaming about work, family and balance for ages and in fact, it's a running joke amongst feminists that every few years there's this new explosion in women basically talking about how they can't possibly go on, they can't do it, its all too hard. When the previous generation of women has been saying exactly the same thing and no one's been listening. So fertility decline has been this secret boom for women who are both mothers and wanting to be mothers because all of a sudden its something that the business world and the larger society as a whole, which is basically run by men and tends to care little about things that don't' concern men, but this does because it means less workers in the future.
It means all the things that Peter Costello keeps talking about in his Inter-generational Report. It means there will be less workers. It means really what the sub-text of that is, is that each worker will become more powerful in terms of their capacity to demand better wages and better working conditions because there will not be situation that has been in the past. There has been a glut of labour and a glut of labour decreases the power of each individual worker. So we are about to move out of that situation and the powers that be would very much like to see that not happen. They would like to continue for there to be a glut of labour and that means that they can continue to deal with labour as they please.
But they're further deregulated the labour market which is only going to worsen that trend isn't it?
Well they don't see it. I guess the reason why I think my argument has been listened to is because I'm actually trying to connect declining fertility to the deregulation of the workforce and the globalisation of work and the kinds of pressures that the globalised economy have put on working conditions in particular countries where there has been a history at least of better conditions, like Australia. They haven't seen that connection. So I'm trying to draw that to them. I think that's the contribution that I and a number of other academics are making to this debate. There has not been a connection made in minds about what its like in the workforce for people in terms of trying to have a safe or secure job, a stable income, reliability. You have children and you have to be able to make a commitment to 18 years to be able to look after them. So if people look into this working future and they can't see that they're going to even necessarily even have a job where they can count on being able to balance the responsibilities that they have.
That makes them reluctant to take on any kind of long term obligations. It makes them reluctant to take on house payments, it make them reluctant to take on children. Because those are long term commitments and if they can't see that they're going to be able to keep them up they don't want to do it.
There has not been a connection made in the minds of decision makers between the global forces of the economy in terms of downsizing and efficiencies and increased productivity and all the euphemisms which basically mean that there is less work available and less high quality work while those with jobs are doing more with less and the fact that people are having less children. But that connection is there to be seen..
The way we need to solve it is not by predominately the ways that have been proposed at the moment. Essentially what we talk a lot about is special treatment for parents. We talk about how parents need flexible hours. Parents need a cheque signed by John Howard every six months. But you know he's not going to be able to completely buy his way out of this problem. Money enables people to buy to some of the things that they need to solve this problem. So it either allows some people to let one person stay at home for longer without it becoming an extraordinary stress on the family.
But dropping out of the workforce completely or in the long term is not a desired nor viable option for many women in a world in which two incomes can be necessary for survival, marriages are more fragile, and women have invested much in their skills. And when parents ask for special treatment solutions like parental leave or flexible hours, they get treated as a special and inferior group that is essentially not pulling it's weight and deserves to pay some consequences for not doing so. So employers will prefer workers who don't ask for such special treatment and be reluctant not to punish those that do out of a benighted sense of fairness. That is really what the 'Mummy & Daddy Track' is really all about. Its saying: OK, if you want these things we will give them to you, but you will have to pay a cost and the cost is that your job will be less valued, will be less secure, you will be promoted less. You'll be able to get on with it less because we will be able to make you pay for what we've given you in your special privileges.
In addition to that what we know is that we have this rising discussion about people who are childless by choice, who tend to be the most vocal, about what the costs are to them about the special privileges that the parents are getting. That childless people are pissed off basically because what's happening. They say;
I know that people have to go to their children's play, I know people need to drop their kids off to school before they can get to work, but the reality is I'm being told I have to produce, and this person is part of my team, and my team has to produce what the 'open all hours' workforce is demanding. And if they are not here pulling their weight, who's pulling it? I am. I'm pissed off and I resent it.
So there is this growing chasm opening up between childless and not childless workers and that is I think a huge problem. So I think what we need to do is talk about solutions and restructures that are going to benefit everybody not just a certain group that is considered to have a particular need at a particular time. I think what we really need to do is reduce hours. We need to continue the trend that has been started by the labor movement. They were the first ones who started talking about a 40-hour week and a 38 hour week and all of that sort of stuff and we need to keep pushing that idea down. We need to start looking at a 30-hour week.
Then we'll need to re-think what efficiency and productivity are, won't we?
It's about talking about how we are very, very wealthy. We are living in a point in time where we have never been so wealthy. We have things that our parents never had and never could have dreamed of. We're something like 30 per cent wealthier than our parents' generation and they were wealthier than the generation before them. We are living in a time where we don't have to worry about the things that through history people have always had to worry about; you know where they were going to get their next meal and if they were going to be able to sustain a roof over their head. We just simply don't worry about those things anymore by and large, of course there are pockets of people who do but by and large these things are not at all what are preoccupying us. What is preoccupying us is do we have the latest car and do we have the latest plasma screen TV?
So we are really in an arena where we are enjoying unprecedented wealth and as it turns out its not actually making us very happy. So there's all this fantastic research in this new area called happiness research where you find out that all this increased wealth is not actually making us happier at all, and in fact we are much less happy as it turns out - particularly, women. Women are not particularly happy at the moment. So it seems like one the things we can conclude from that is that we might want to in the future look at our wealth and decide that, and it would be nice if we could do it collectively, but even individually people are going to start to think I have enough stuff! Instead of buying another house to buy more stuff, I have enough stuff! What I really need is time. So the next time I'm talking to my union about what I want or the next time I'm sitting down with my employer and being forced to negotiate an individual contract, what I'm going to ask for is not higher wages, I am going to ask for more time.
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