Week 7 – Workshop Resources: The Working Poor

Case Studies

I am 31 years of age. I am in a de facto relationship, with three children under 10. I currently work at the Flinders Medical Centre Community Child Care Centre as a child-care worker and I have been there for 10 years. I am also an LHMU member. I work on a casual rate because I choose to, as I will get more money per hour, $15.35 an hour doing 24 hours a week, and I forgo my sick leave and holiday pay as I am better off getting the extra hourly rate.

We used to get a health care card. We no longer do, because my partner’s and my combined income is $50 over the limit. Due to not having a health care card, we get no help with school fees and have to pay the full doctors fees, as there is no bulk-billing in my area. The family payment system does not seem to support families where both parents are part-time or casual.

We have inadvertently incurred family allowance debts because we have to estimate our future incomes, and quite often have had to pay back. A number of times we could have been eligible for parenting payment but have not bothered to fill out the forms because it is too much hassle to fill them out and it is only for one or two fortnights. The next fortnight you are not eligible for it. You get knocked off. You have to go back and fill the forms out again. My life could be worse, but when I see people like CEOs and managers earning so much money, obviously the money is there for us to be paid better so that I could afford to take my children on holidays, to go to the movies et cetera and to do household repairs, and maybe to run two cars. I would like the committee to look into the reasons why, if the money is there to pay CEOs and managers such large amounts of money, low-wage earners cannot have a better lot.

Committee Hansard 29.4.03, Ms McScheffrey (Page 76).

I work at the Sheraton on the Park, and I am a LHMU delegate there. I have worked at the hotel for almost nine years. My job is in the uniform and/or valet attendant area. I receive approximately $306 per week after tax. I work approximately 21 hours a week. I have five dependent children between the ages of two and 13. I am a single parent, unfortunately. I would like to work more hours a week, but I cannot manage due to my parenting responsibilities. In any case, I try to work every second weekend just to get extra money from the penalty rates to help pay the bills. I am sorry, but I am a bit upset. I cannot remember the last time I was able to take a break or to have a holiday. I find it very difficult to manage my basic costs such as clothes, health, transport and education. The living wage pay rise I receive is so small. It is a bit of help, but it needs to be bigger to make any real difference. What can the committee do to make sure that in any future pay increase I receive real help? I have been forced to take unpaid leave for the birth of my children. This has forced our family into financial hardship. What can the committee do to make sure that working families do not continue to suffer when children arrive? Can you ensure that paid maternity leave becomes a right for all workers, especially the low paid, especially us? We are working for peanuts.

Committee Hansard 26.5.03, Ms Parajo (Page 78).

I work in the bar and in food preparation at the Queensland Turf Club and the Brisbane Lions Club at the Gabba. I enjoy the customers and the social interaction in hospitality. I am a casual worker. I used to work two shifts at the Queensland Turf Club, a mid-week shift and a Saturday shift. I had worked at the turf club for seven years and I had had these shifts for two years when the manager took me off the mid-week shift. This left me with only one shift at the turf club and one shift at the Brisbane Lions Club. I now take home $160 a week. I also receive some money from Centrelink. Losing a shift is a lot to someone who is on their own and relying on this money. You do not have any choices when you are casual. You do not want to cause trouble. Managers can make decisions based on personality instead of on work ethic, and they do this all the time. I am an honest and hard worker. It is not because of my work that I lost this shift; it is because of favouritism and personalities. I am on my own, I am 54 years of age, and I would like to retire by the time I am 60. It is difficult to be on your feet all day. I feel like I have done the hard work in life, but I have no option but to stick it out.

I manage on the income that I get. I put away anything extra that I can. I am currently paying off my house, but it is getting hard because everything is going up. It is getting harder to manage day to day. I cannot afford a car, and it takes me 1½ hours to get from Green Meadows to Ascot because I need to get a few buses. I also cannot afford to go on holidays. Casuals in hospitality have no security. We want to be treated fairly. I would like to ask: what can the government do to make sure that we can keep our shifts and that we have as much security as other people?

Committee Hansard 4.8.03, Mrs Dewar (Page 79).

Breaching Penalises the Poorest

Overall, the system as it operates at the moment relies far too much on obligations and compulsion, based on the idea that people have to be banged over the head or they will not do anything. From our experience that is just nonsense. We know that people want to work, they are trying the best they can to find jobs, and they face a whole lot of barriers to getting into employment, including, as we have heard, the fact that there are six people for every job vacancy. The system of providing more compulsion and more obligations is just obscene.

When you think that with the breach penalties, we are talking about $800, $1,200 or $1,500 being applied to people who are the poorest in our society.

Committee Hansard 30.4.03, BSL (Page 115).

Breaching seems to be a government KPI (key performance indicator). No amount of discussion from our clients, as related to us, makes any difference. Nothing works: there are no excuses if you breach: “Bang! There is another one. Caught you! Performance review appraisal? Well, that will look good”. They are fairly cynical comments but that is the way it seems to come across to the people and to us. The frustration of not having and not being able to find a job is soul destroying on its own without being subjected to this injustice of being breached.

Committee Hansard 2.7.03, SVDP Society, Central Illawarra (Page 115).

Breaching does so much harm to the community. I have talked to young people who were at the edge of committing suicide. I have talked to young people who have actually acquired disabilities as a result of breaching because they were put out on the streets. If you have eight weeks with no income, what are you going to do? Where are you going to live?

Committee Hansard 29.4.03, Disability Action (Page 116).

Living in a caravan park

Several families I have worked with live in the local caravan park. Moving into this environment is usually a financial decision, a last resort and an embarrassment to all family members. These families became more isolated from all their previous associations because of distance, the cost and the irregularity of public transport, and not wanting others to know about their depraved living situation. Children will not invite their friends over, saying, there is not enough space and I will be harassed about our “povo life”. Children roam the street connecting with anyone who is in the same situation. Consider having to walk up the road to go to the toilet or have a shower, allowing your young children to play in the street because there is no room in the one bedroom caravan that accommodates 4 people. Family members feel bad about themselves they start to take medication (legal and illegal) to get through the day. Family life falls apart, children stop going to school, there is lots of fighting and then violence, children run away and attach to undesirable groups of people, or anyone who provides a roof overhead.

Submission 131, Hunter Council of Social Services (Page 116).

Reference: Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, E. Humphery, C. McDonald, P. Short, L. Peake, and I. Zappe. (2004). A hand up not a hand out: Renewing the fight against poverty, Report on poverty and financial hardship. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, Senate Printing Unit, Parliament House, Canberra. Pages 76 – 116.