The recent order by Fair Work Australia to award pay increases to tens of thousands of community service workers will provide welcome pay parity for those doing comparable work in the aged-care and government sectors. This win has been a long time coming, and is a great victory, not only for fairness and in a pecuniary sense, but also because it demonstrates a valuing of the nature of the work of those who care for and support the most disadvantaged in our community. These include the homeless, the mentally ill, and those affected by drug and alcohol misuse. These people are almost always socially isolated and at-risk in many ways. Community workers are often the vital link for people
who are otherwise struggling to cope with many challenges on their own.
The Fair Work Australia decision is likely to have a further benefit of elevating the status of the community sector in the eyes of the general public. A sad reality of life today is that, for many, high salaries equate to worth. High salaries are often linked to executives increasing company profits, though we have seen many examples in which this isn’t the case. CEOs who have even brought their companies to the brink of disaster are still often paid bonuses. It was heartening to see recently two Rio Tinto executives declining bonuses due to annual targets not being met.
So, this decision for pay parity for community workers reflects back to society several important messages. As a society we need to consider both the nature of and the value we place on certain types of work. We also need to consider levels of income which will enable workers to live adequately, meeting basic needs as well as enabling aspirations which enhance a person’s life and wellbeing. And, if we are serious about social and
economic equity, there needs to be an alternative to the dominant capitalist ideology that often rewards outputs which do not contribute towards a fair society.
The excessive rates of remuneration paid to senior executives has skewed society’s sense of what is valued. This latest decision is an important re-balancing step in favour of valuing that which contributes towards a cohesive and equitable society.