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Essential workers disadvantaged by industry practices, report finds

A new report into the industry conditions of retail, fast-food and warehouse workers has found that despite many being heralded as ‘essential workers’ for the past two years, most don’t have the same access to better conditions, pay and flexibility that has allowed other industries to survive the pandemic.

The ‘Who Cares?’ report comes as workers around the globe are leaving jobs they deem unsatisfying, or who are burned out by toxic industry practices.

Commissioned by the SDA, the research was carried out by UNSW’s social policy research centre, surveyed almost 6500 union members, and found that impacted workers lack genuine choice around their working times and childcare arrangements, which has a knock on effect in that these workers then struggle to organise their family lives in the way workers in other industries are able to.

According to the report, less than half (40 per cent) of surveyed respondents work the same shifts each week, and one in ten parents said they do not have regular work days.

Additionally, industrial relations and employer practices across the industry, such as a focus on profitability and cost minimisation impacting rostering and pay, limits the opportunities available for workers in the retail industry.

In one example, a survey respondent said her employer had changed the times of night fill in order to better save on penalty rates without taking into consideration that parents would not be able to pick up their children from school. Staff weren’t given a choice, their contract was changed, and they are now paid less for the same role while also missing out on family obligations.

This rostering practice also impacts other family members, with 69 per cent of respondents stating that their roster impacts when other members of their family can work – an issue exacerbated by rosters changing week to week.

And while retail does predominately employ young Australians, older Australians working in the industry are subject to low pay: with 55 per cent of respondents noting their households post-tax income lands at less than $1000, while 46 per cent of parents in couple relationships and 56 per cent of sole parents said the pay is too low to meet their own and their child’s needs.

“Reform is needed to improve working time arrangements in retail, fast food and warehousing industries, so that SDA members have control over their working hours and have predictable shifts so they can organise care and other aspects of their lives,” the report reads.

“Better job security and pay are also needed, to support all workers to fulfill their care responsibilities, and to enable families to engage with formal care services.”

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