National Families Week (May 15–21): ‘Stronger Families, Stronger Communities’

Here is some food for thought for those of us in this little pocket of the world – Tweed Shire, Northern NSW – as we consider the theme of National Families Week and reflect on global trends in family-related policy this year, the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family.

On April 30th, Anglicare Australia launched its annual Rental Affordability Snapshot, highlighting the difficulties that low-income households face in securing affordable housing.  Low-income families in regional areas were found to be virtually unable to find suitable housing on their budget, especially if they were single parents receiving Newstart Allowance.  Anglicare Australia’s first key priority was “recognition of income inadequacy as a barrier to secure housing and meaningful social participation” (page. 5).

According to the 2011 Census, the Tweed Shire does not have enough jobs for its working residents.  Just under half of all Shire residents do not work locally.  With transport inadequacies and time differences across the border for half the year, commuting to work requires accommodating significant challenges, especially for workers with family commitments.  As most people living in Tweed Shire know, the bulk of the work opportunities available in the area are in retail, hospitality and the health and social care industries  – [‘health and social care industries’ primarily comprise nurses, child care workers, aged care workers, social workers and other community services workers, but also ambulance drivers and other medical health professionals]. These industries are often quite low-paid, have high levels of casual employees without paid leave entitlements (e.g. sick leave, annual leave) (ABS 2012) and usually require shift work or rostering across a 24 hour day, 7 days per week. These are generally not ‘family-friendly’ working conditions.

The Tweed Shire workforce roughly comprises equal numbers of workers above and below the age of 45 years. However, those over the age of 45 have grown, while those under 45 years have reduced in the area since 2006. Similarly, since 2006, there has been an increase in the number of women working in the Shire. Women now comprise 54% of the Tweed’s workforce .  The increase of women in the workforce has coincided with a significant rise in part-time work. Part-time work (including casual workers) now accounts for almost a third of all jobs in the Tweed . This should come as no surprise given the recent changes in welfare policy requiring mothers with children over six years of age – or eight if they are single parents – to re-enter the workforce.

But finding work-family balance is increasingly challenging.

Fair Work Australia’s 2013 Best Practice Guide: Work and Family outlines the benefits to businesses that aim to reduce the stress that arises when workers find difficulty juggling their work and family commitments. These include (page 2):

  • A cost- effective means of retaining skilled staff and attracting new employees;
  • Improvement in staff morale, leading to greater engagement in the workplace;
  • Reduction in turnover of staff, leading to lower recruitment and training costs;
  • Reduced absenteeism;
  • Maintained and improved productivity by ensuring highly skilled employees are recruited and retained; and
  • Improved organisational efficiency through the benefits of long service, e.g. institutional memory, industry knowledge, networks and contacts.

In my work I assist some of the vulnerable and disadvantaged parents who have been affected by the recent welfare changes. Mostface significant financial hardship as a result of the welfare changes, and also encounter multiple challenges in finding family-friendly work. Many work casually or part-time in retail, hospitality or domestic cleaning, largely outside their areas of qualification. Those who are finding it most difficult to secure any work are over 45 years old. Many are interested in working for themselves in order to become financially independent and achieve a family-work balance that provides the best outcomes for their children. .


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