Lisa Thorpy, a social worker with New Horizons Enterprises in East Lismore, is hoping a ruling by Fair Work Australia this week will lead to improved wages and working conditions for workers in her industry.
Lisa Thorpy, a social worker with New Horizons Enterprises in East Lismore, is hoping a ruling by Fair Work Australia this week will lead to improved wages and working conditions for workers in her industry. Jacklyn Wagner

Victory for underpaid workers

ABOUT 2000 social and community service workers on the Northern Rivers are cautiously celebrating a win in the Federal workplace relations tribunal.

Fair Work Australia upheld Australian Services Union claims that non-government workers in the sector are significantly underpaid, compared with their public-sector colleagues and, as the non-government sector is predominantly staffed by female workers, gender discrimination does play a role in the inequity.

Lismore social worker Lisa Thorpy, from New Horizons Enterprises, said she and her co-workers were paid up to 30% less and the sector struggled to attract and retain the best workers.

“At a financial level, it is stressful for workers because they are really underpaid for the work that they perform,” Ms Thorpy said.

“We often lose our best workers to government positions because people have mortgages to pay and families to provide for.

“I co-ordinate two outreach teams which work with people with mental illness in their homes in the community. We’re not just saving the cost of hospitalisation but also the cost of people’s lives.”

Fair Work Australia will seek further submissions before determining the level of pay increases.

With an estimated 30,000 workers in NSW, State Treasury modelling estimates the pay hikes could cost up $1 billion over five years, the State Government said in arguing against any increase.

The union’s Northern Rivers organiser, Punita Boardman, said it was a day of celebration for women and community service workers, but the Government still needed to “show us the money”.

“It’s a bit frustrating but we see it as a win – they’ll have to come up with something,” she said.

She said the union’s national day of action next month would still go ahead, with rallies and marches planned on June 8.

“We believe it’s going to be the biggest rally we’ve seen,” she said. “We’ll start from the corner of Magellan and Carrington streets in Lismore and march to Lismore MP Thomas George’s office.”

FAIR WORK AUSTRALIA TRIBUNAL FINDINGS:

  • There is not equal remuneration for men and women in non-government social services.
  • Gender has been important in creating the gap.
  • The Fair Work Act had significantly altered the law on equal pay.

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