Inspired by an American book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Nickel and Dimed, Elisabeth Wynhausen took 12 months absence from her job as a journalist with The Australian with the intention of testing whether she could get by as a low paid worker in Australia.
The book is a mix of anecdotes of her experience and statistics she presents to support her points. It is an enjoyable read, laced with her wry humor, although when I finished reading it I felt somewhat depressed at her findings.
EW quotes figures to show with the new economy, whilst many have prospered, low paid workers have gone backwards. Over two million casual workers are denied the benefits of permanency, such as predictability of income, paid holidays and sick days.
She found that low paid workers, in addition to missing the perks enjoyed by full time workers, were no longer valued. They were invisible to management, who never consulted them or considered their needs when assigning work.
What about her original objective? Was she able to get by on the wages she received?
At the end of her book she concludes that minimum wage employees can get by provided they work full time. However if workers are in the “zone of intermittent employment” otherwise known as casual work, where they wait for days not knowing whether they will be called to work, life can be bitter.
No, she didn’t get by, because she found full time work elusive, and spent her working hours, like millions more, unappreciated, underpaid, and unseen. Elisabeth Wynhausen has painted a bleak picture of these workers. With the IR changes announced by the government their numbers might increase, and some people who were previously amongst the winners in the new economy might join the legion of the dirt cheap workers.
Oh boy. No joy being unskilled. Potentially no great joy even if skilled. It's a tough world, but need it be that way? Sounds like some employers really abuse the casual work arrangements at great cost to their workers.