Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The commodification of childcare and workers’ rights

Why did two female childcare workers (“girls”) walk off the job at the dot of 6pm, (presumably) knowingly leaving a 14-month-old child locked in their workplace? I don’t know exactly, and I don’t condone what they did, but it sounds like they were mighty pissed-off with their management. A fair guess can be made that the two workers would receive no overtime for working past their scheduled finish. When coupled with the near-certainty that the workers were being paid the minimum wage (about $13/hour, assuming they were 21 or older), the extremity of their actions can at least be understood on a rational level.

Working in the call centre of a big-four bank a few years ago, I was in an analogous situation. My rostered hours ended at 8pm, but if I was stuck on a call that began before this time, I was bound to see it out, however long this may take, and with no overtime payable. Needless to say, the pay and general conditions were bad, in any event. Fortunately for me, after getting “stuck” a couple of times early on in the job, I invented some strategies to stop this from ever happening again. My motivation here wasn’t so much that I had to be anywhere urgently after knock-off, but rather that my employers were scumsuckers anyway, and I owed them nothing that I wasn’t paid for.

Such an attitude could well have been in the minds of the two childcare workers, I suspect. Their workplace was in the process of being taken-over by a Brisbane-based, for-profit conglomerate (with strong Liberal Party connections); most likely meaning an insulting series of little cuts to their general employment conditions was being implemented. For the two workers, going home “on the dot” obviously couldn’t be as relatively easily ensured as for me as a call centre worker (“accidentally” hanging-up was a last resort).

Ultimately, the rap here should thus be taken by those who forced the two workers into taking such drastic action – the outgoing owners (who could be presumed to be making a tidy profit by on-selling their staff and young clients as chattels, more or less), as well as the new owners (whose commercial foray into a industry based on staff goodwill should never have happened in the first place).

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