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Just ‘change jobs’ for more pay? The Treasurer must learn the realities of women’s working life

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Australians this week to take advantage of the “Great Resignation” and consider changing roles to access higher wages.

He called it the “great reshuffle”. A chance to use low employment rates and competition in the market to get more from employers.

But he should know there is so much more at stake for women, particularly as women still take on the bulk of the caring and household duties, even when they’re working full time.

And he must get in touch with reality, to see that higher-paid roles aren’t readily available, especially for women.

He should learn that female-dominated professions, like care and education sectors including nursing, teaching and early childhood education, don’t actually have “higher paying” roles to go to. A point he may see today as aged care workers issue an open letter to the Morrison Government and nurses go on strike.

His idea for the “great reshuffle” will get much more difficult for parents when the early childhood sector faces increased educator shortages in the future, with three in four educators planning to leave within the next three years.

As for women working across knowledge sectors? Those who have supposedly “won” now that workplaces have finally realized that productivity is possible, even when you’re not physically sitting in an office?

These women too face great risks to their flexibility and the arrangements they have in place, by simply changing roles.

It shouldn’t be like this, but the reality is women can too often feel they have to “earn” the right to flexibility, to work part time work or to access arrangements that will support the commitments they have outside of work.

Women so often feel no other choice but to take three or four-fifths of a salary, for the privilege of having a little more slack in their weeks, despite often putting in the same amount of hours and achieving the same outcomes as someone taking the full-time salary.

Sure, great shifts towards remote working as a result of the pandemic have enabled more women to work from home – and continue to do so, potentially forever. But many are still tied to stringent work hours and even seeing their so-called ‘free time’ further impinged by notifications and an “always on” workplace cultures.

Where women can access real flexible work that actually supports their commitments outside of work, why would they risk it? What if they end up with a manager who just doesn’t get it, or care?

Sadly, employees still feel they need to be tested or forced to ‘earn’ the right to flexible work. Rather than being paid for completing a collection of tasks, many knowledge-based workers particularly are still so often beholden to time-based working, as well as long, virtual meetings that may even be more frequent than before COVID-19, due to managers believing meetings is the best path forward for making up for lost in-person contact.

Meanwhile, as Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Services points out, 1.1 million Australians are still trying to live on a measly $45 a day unemployment payment.

Of course, there may always be more money, job satisfaction, flexibility and so much more available elsewhere.

But let’s be real: there are risks involved, that not all employees are willing or able to take.

And as for those higher paying jobs that Australians can take advantage of, the ones that exist outside of the industries that don’t currently require urgent policy interventions on pay?

We can only actually work in them if we have the care infrastructure in place that underpins the economy. Right now, those caring sectors are falling apart and losing the best talent they have.

These women too face great risks to their flexibility and the arrangements they have in place, by simply changing roles.

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