No, she's not an Amazon princess super heroine.  She's a working carer.

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No, she’s not an Amazon princess super heroine. She’s a working carer, a member in what has become known as the Sandwich Generation.

She cares for an aging relative AND one or more children or grandchildren, while trying to hold down a full-time job and pay the bills at the same time. And she accomplishes this feat in a workplace environment which, in most cases, is altogether unmindful of her needs and those of the people in her care.

She may, in this circumstance, be forced to quit her job. If this happens there’s little chance she’ll ever get it back.

Even working carers with only one person in their care can find the going hard and may have employers unsympathetic towards their problems.

In August, the Australian Council of Trade Unions conducted a survey which brought 5,400 responses from workers. It showed that 85 per cent of all employees had ‘significant’ caring responsibilities.

Sixty per cent of respondents to the survey said they would be too fearful of the consequences to ask their employer for reduced working hours or some other adjustment to work conditions to accommodate their caring responsibilities.

Of those who did take the risk, 25 per cent had their pleas rejected.

The survey covered people who were presently employed. Thus, there’s no account of the numbers who’ve had to quit their jobs or who have been dispensed with.

In December, the ACTU will put a case to the Fair Work Commission seeking entitlement for working carers to be granted temporarily reduced work hours with the right to a return to their former hours when caring responsibilities cease or are diminished.

At present, an employer can reject an appeal for an alteration to work-hours without offering any explanation at all. Under the ACTU proposal, employers would have to show cause for rejecting a request covering unpaid caring demands.

These developments come eight years after a landmark study conducted for the NSW Industrial Relations Commission by the Women and Work Research Group at the University of Sydney.

The report, Taking Care: Mature age workers and elder care, predicted an increase in the percentage of mature-age employees in the workforce as the result of an ageing population and low fertility rates. The calculation was that by 2016, more than 80 per cent of labour-market growth would come from people over 45.

The study also predicted a significant rise in the number of mature-age workers with carer responsibilities and pointed out that there was very little research into the needs of such workers and the difficulties they face. There was also, the report said, very little scope for flexibility in workplaces.

Elder care, the study found, was overwhelmingly the task of women and most of them in their peak working years between the ages of 35 and 54.

The Taking Care: Mature age workers and elder care report found that very few people who were forced to quit work because of carer responsibilities ever got back into the labour force when their carer responsibilities diminished or ceased altogether. In many instances, the headlong evolution of technology had made their former skills invalid.

That report and several others pinpoints the keyword in this whole business: Flexibility.

Diversity Council Australia has, in fact, developed a program called Future-Flex with the aim of making flexibility a mainstream element in Australian workplaces and we have covered many Future-Flex strategies in previous issues of Work‘n’Care.

For more information on Future-Flex visit:

The ACTU case will be heard before a full bench of the Fair Work Commission between December 12 and 22.

We urge all employer organisations to support the case.