Interview: Common Ground
Industrial: A Low Act
Unions: The Number of the Least
Politics: The Smoking Gun
Economics: Microcredit, Compulsory Superannuation and Inequality
Environment: Low Voltage
History: The Art of Social Justice
Review: Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Culture: A Forgotten Poet
From Green House to Glass House
Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Work can make you tired and grumpy; often requires expensive and complicated childcare arrangements; fuels guilt-inspired spending on kids you'd like to see more of; and leaves little time or energy for housework.
Barbara Pocock's new book, The Labour Market Ate My Babies, takes a thorough look at the ways that work impacts on family life; and calls for an overhaul of the way society supports parents trying to simultaneously care for kids and pay household bills.
Pocock, an Adelaide academic who has written extensively on the social impacts of labour market, explores the shrinking capacity of Australian families to sustain themselves as parents become increasingly time-poor and consumption-dependent; women's growing role in the workforce; the explosion in the for-profit childcare sector; and falling job security.
The ground covered by The Labour Market Ate My Babies is wide-ranging and interesting, but where it really shines is in its in-depth interviews with young people on how their parents' work affects them and their future plans for work and family.
In researching the book, Pocock interviewed 93 school kids aged 10 to 18 from disadvantaged, rural, comfortable and privileged backgrounds.
Their comments reveal that kids are very sensitive to their parents working conditions. While most recognised their parents benefited from working in terms of earning and getting involved, they also had to deal with 'spillover' - work nasties that come home with mum and dad.
Says 16-year-old Jane: "They just come home grumpy and start yelling at you. Not always, but they always just discuss all this crap ... It makes you upset, because it's just really annoying and you end up grumpy because they're grumpy."
Eighteen-year-old Judith said her mum's move back into full-time work had a big impact on the family: "It's made the household really stressful too because I've never really seen Mum so stressed before. I had seen Dad [who works long hours] but we'd all learned to cope with that, but now Mum is stressed. She says 'Do that!' and she gets angrier quicker, whereas she didn't do that ... they're both really stressed out now."
Other kids talked about the impact of their parents' long hours, strategies for dealing with their parents' grumpiness and yearning for more time with busy parents, even if it meant missing out on presents and treats.
Both the boys and girls also talked about their own hopes for interesting work, anticipating being skilled workers who would enjoy their future work. They also spoke about their desire to have children and balance family life with work.
"If I had children under five then I'd probably just rearrange the times if my husband and I were both working. We'd have separate times so one of us was always home with the kids unless they were at kindy or something," said Sarah, 16.
But Australia's labour market will have to change if these kids' aspirations are to be realised, Pocock argues.
With most young Australians expecting to live in dual-income households and have children, they will need increased public support or be forced to sacrifice either their reproductive capacity or ability to work.
Pocock suggests a number of possibilities: contributions from employers; good labour law that supports the combination of work and family; publicly-funded, high-quality childcare; more paid leave and support from community organisations.
Without such support, parents will face difficulties in meeting their care requirements, while earning enough to sustain the family - with low-income households bearing the brunt.
"In an environment where work matters more, and private household capacity is strained and thinned, more must be done to support and sustain those who work, if they and their children are not to suffer," Pocock says.
In today's IR climate, with WorkChoices whittling away working Australians' conditions and bargaining power, Pocock's voice is an important reminder of the human implications of unfair work laws.
The Labour Market Ate My Babies, by Barbara Pocock (Federation Press )
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