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Janis Bailey, Fiona Macdonald & Gillian Whitehouse WOMEN’S WORK, WOMEN’S WORTH: CONTEMPORARY ISSUES Centre for Work, Organisations and Well-being, Griffith.

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Presentation on theme: "Janis Bailey, Fiona Macdonald & Gillian Whitehouse WOMEN’S WORK, WOMEN’S WORTH: CONTEMPORARY ISSUES Centre for Work, Organisations and Well-being, Griffith."— Presentation transcript:

1 Janis Bailey, Fiona Macdonald & Gillian Whitehouse WOMEN’S WORK, WOMEN’S WORTH: CONTEMPORARY ISSUES Centre for Work, Organisations and Well-being, Griffith University, Thursday 15 October 2009

2  To raise issues about how we think and write about the low-paid  To explore the notion of ‘moral economy’ as a useful device to counter the hegemony of neoliberalism

3  ‘Neoliberalism is an ideology, a politics and above all an economic and implicitly cultural theory that invites engagement and the expression of critical and oppositional discourses’ (Giroux 2005, 12)  We need a new ‘social logic’ (Callinicos 2003)

4  Qualitative study (interviews) of the effects of WorkChoices on 120 low-paid women workers (20 in Qld)  2007  Funded by six state governments and various NGOs  National Foundation for Australian Women a driving force  Elton, J., Bailey, J. and ten others (2007) Women and WorkChoices: Impacts on the low pay sector, Centre for Work + Life, University of South Australia, August 2007, available at (This national report attracted funding from most state government departments of industrial relations, the National Foundation for Australian Women, YWCA Australia, Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL), the Don Chipp Foundation, Women with Disabilities Australia and Victorian Women Lawyers).http://www.nfaw.org/media/2007/ html  MacDonald, F., Whitehouse, G. and Bailey, J. (2007) Tipping the scales: A qualitative study of the impact of Work Choices on women in low-paid employment in Queensland, Report to the Queensland Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, June 2007, available at  (Qld DEIR-funded).

5  Key areas: Removal of unfair dismissal protection for employees in firms <100 AWAs did not need to pass the ‘no disadvantage’ test  Ample quantitative data: Peetz 2007a; Peetz 2007b: Peetz and Preston 2007, etc

6  What kind of a moral economy of industrial relations was expressed by women who had experienced its effects?  How did WorkChoices measure up to their normative expectations?

7  The term takes into account the expectations of ordinary people of how society should function, and involves ‘a popular consensus as to what [are] legitimate and what [are] illegitimate practices’ (Thompson 1971, 79).  The point of a moral economic framework is to avoid ‘crass economic reductionism [that] obliterat[es] the complexities of motive, behaviour and function’ (Thompson 1971, 78).   Underpinned by the notion that the raison d’être of economic activity is ‘to enable us to live well’ (Sayer 2007a, 261).

8  Complementary to other perspectives: citizenship/rights; ‘decent work’ etc  Much feminist political economy inflected with a moral economy perspective  Neoliberalism is a totalising discourse that requires challenging: can ‘moral economy’ cut the ice?

9  Findings (quant; other studies): increasing gender wage gap, disadvantages for award- reliant (and esp. those on AWAs) and falls in real wages in retail, hospitality  Findings (this study): Material effects Perceptions and subjectivities  Increased fear and uncertainty in the workplace  Effects on individuals’ self-esteem  Attitudes to work and employer, identity as workers  Concern for others

10  What kind of a moral economy of industrial relations was expressed by women who had experienced the effects of WorkChoices?  How did WorkChoices measure up to their normative expectations? Loss of dignity, respect and a sense of control Expressed need for a balancing force between employer and employee power Corroborating data: Roy Morgan and other polls; AHRI surveys

11  It’s really important that we have a balance between what’s best for the employer and what’s best for the employee, right? I understand that employers still have to balance budgets and consider monetary issues and that sort of stuff, but I don’t believe that they have the right to treat employees as second-class citizens just because they’re the ones with the power…. With the WorkChoices legislation … the balance is too much in favour of the employer. (Maureen)   I mean … it is a fair go, a fair go for the everyday person, not just the business … and … the people who pay the big taxes. (Julie)   It’s changing everyone’s way of thinking about where’s everyone’s fair go, and that’s what Australia is meant to be all about. (Annalise)

12  Institutions and their underpinning mechanisms are, in a moral economy perspective, not mere ‘instrumental arrangements’ (Mau 2004, 58) but are ‘expressions of definite moral conceptions’ (Rothstein 1998, 2)

13  Moral economy gives us an analytical tool for incorporating the views of the vulnerable at an individual level, as well as the view of collective groups (and ‘making sense’ of qualitative data)  A moral economy perspective emphasises that it is not only material consequences that flow from IR law changes; if violation of the moral economy is very significant, the consequences for the government of the day (and businesses, as an aside) can be significant.  Moral economy points a way to imagining the kinds of individual and social agency that individuals need to participate in economic and political life and the kinds of conditions necessary for ‘democratic struggle for a sustainable future’ (Giroux 2005, 12).


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