Tipping the scales for work-life balance

Australians are losing the battle for work-life balance.

A new study has found we are donating $110 billion in free labour each year through unpaid overtime.

The Australia Institute report release today found the average full-time worker is doing six hours of unpaid overtime each week worth an estimated $9471 a year.

Sadly, the reason why people are doing more overtime does not surprise me - job insecurity and an expectation from bosses that employees will work longer hours.

The survey of almost 1000 people around the country found 46 per cent of people are expected to work longer hours and 27 per cent said their position had become insecure.

Job security is important for all of us.

How can we have quality health care if our nurses don’t feel secure about their jobs or their ability to earn a reliable income?

How can we have decent education if teachers are worried about the same thing?

How can we have decent communities if parents are waiting by the phone for their next shift instead of being able to spend time off getting involved in their kids sport or education?

How can we talk about being a country with an 8-hour day or 4 weeks annual leave if 40% of our workforce doesn’t have that because they are in insecure work, such as casual or contract positions.

How can we say we are a country with a tradition of providing a fair go, when almost half the population no longer benefit from the same rights at work?

We can’t, that’s why we have to take this issue on and fight together again.

When people stand together and fight collectively for their rights we can achieve amazing things.

It’s thanks to union members doing just this that all Australians today enjoy weekends, annual leave, overtime and a minimum wage.

Unfortunately, what we have been able to win is under threat.

The increasing privatisation of public services has reduced our ability to pressure government in order to protect our living standards with decent wage and conditions.

Increasingly workers in the private sector, who have not been able to pressure government to ensure their conditions are protected, have lost rights such as job security.

If a strong public sector once helped unions in the private sector to raise the bar, it is now the case that a much larger deregulated private sector is having the reverse effect and lowering living standards everywhere.

Increasingly, we see people respond to conditions not by saying “If they get that right, then I want it as well”, but by saying, “If I don’t get that right, then why should they have it?”

That is the wedge that has made America such an unequal society, and it is the same wedge that Tony Abbott and big business use against us if we don’t fight back.

But fighting back alone is frightening and difficult – particularly for the 40 per cent of Australian workers who don’t have secure permanent jobs in the first place.

The research out today backs that up.

The study author found that Australian workers are scared to rock the boat and will not raise the issue of better work-life balance with their boss in case it threatens their career prospects.

As a former nurse and proud union leader, take it from me – it is less scary when you stand together.

By standing together to bargain collectively for decent wages and conditions, we can protect the living standards of all Australians.

So what can we do as individuals to achieve better work-life balance? Join your union.

It’s only by standing together that we can pressure industry and government to ensure all Australians can have decent living standards.

Whether it is protecting penalty rates, fighting for flexible hours for parents returning to work or improving the work-life balance – we can’t do it alone but together we can achieve amazing things.

It’s something to ponder over your weekend – which is not a right given to you out of the kindness of your boss’ heart.

This article was first published on The Hoopla on 19 November 2014 as 'Why are we all working so bloody hard?'