Carers in the workforce - a new age?

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Presented by the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre in partnership with SafeWork SA, Department of the Premier and Cabinet and supported by the Office for Carers

Audio transcript available here 

A free public forum as part of activities in National Carers Week October 18-24, 2009

This forum will examine recent legislative changes and Australia-wide policy issues affecting carers who are in paid employment. It is designed to inform employers, policy makers, managers in the caring and health sector, university researchers, and carers.

The forum is focused on the issues for carers in maintaining a connection with the paid workforce while undertaking their carer role. At a national level, it will outline the employment recommendations of the recent Inquiry into Better Support for Carers and explore Australia-wide policy issues affecting carers who are in paid employment. At a state level, it will outline recent legislative changes in South Australia to better protect carers against discrimination in employment and the current role of the Office for Carers. It will also profile employment programmes in both the public and private sectors, which support carers in employment.

The event will commence with a keynote address from Bettina Cass and Cathy Thomson.  Respondents will comment on the topic and a discussion session will involve all speakers and respondents.  Questions will be taken from the audience.

Keynote speakers:
Professor Bettina Cass AO, University of NSW 
Cathy Thomson, Research Fellow, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Linda Matthews, SA Equal Opportunity Commissioner
Ruth Blenkiron, Director, Human Resources, University of South Australia
Sharron Irwin, Team Manager, Respite South, ACH Group

Keynote abstract:

Work/life balance: an issue of relevance to all employees
Presenters: Bettina Cass and Cathy Thomson, Social policy Research Centre, University of NSW

Debates surrounding the issue of the work/life balance focus predominantly on parents combining paid employment with the care of healthy young children. This issue is of critical importance to the well-being of children and their parents and the development of future generations in Australia. However, the difficulty of balancing employment with the care of frail older people and those with disability or long-term illness is becoming an increasingly important social policy issue. Demographic and policy changes have resulted in an increasing likelihood that employees will assume substantial informal caring responsibilities. Research shows that the effects of juggling care for frail older people and those with disability on long-term economic security, employment, health and social participation can be substantial. Based on an analysis of nationally representative surveys and focus group discussions this paper will examine the impact of juggling informal care and employment on economic and social participation. Evidence on the types of services and support and workplace characteristics that assist employed carers to maintain their attachment to the labour market will be outlined. The paper will also discuss the recommendations of the recent Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, Better Support for Carers (2009), with respect to the recommendations addressing ways to facilitate the employment/care balance and return to employment after a period of care-giving. We will show how the Australian research evidence and the recommendations of the Report on Better Support for Carers may be compared with policy developments in the UK. What does the research tell us about effective ways in which carers' work/care balance might be enhanced?

Speaker biographies:

Professor Bettina Cass AO
Professor Bettina Cass (BA (Hons) UNSW; PhD UNSW) is Professorial Fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre, University of NSW. Prior to this appointment, she was Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney and held the post of Professor of Australian Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA. Her research and publications focus on Australian and international studies of social policy and family policies, including income support and community services; informal and formal care services and supports for children, older people and people with a disability; retirement income policies; active ageing; policies which make a difference for low-income children. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. She is currently a member of the South Australian Government's Social Inclusion Board.

Her current projects (funded by the Australian Research Council) with teams at the Social Policy Research Centre include studies of "Young Carers: life-course impacts of the caring responsibilities of children and young adults"; "Grandparents as primary carers of their grandchildren: national, State and Territory policy issues"; and "Making a difference: Building on children's perspectives on economic adversity". With teams at SPRC, she has recently completed Reports on Approaches to Packages of Support for People with Disabilities for NSW Department if Ageing Disability and Home Care; Young Carers in Australia: Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of their care-giving and the implications for policy, for the Department of Families, Community Services, Housing and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA); Active Ageing: Social, Civic and Community Participation of Older People and the Significance of Care-giving, for FaHCSIA. She has been a consultant to the Australian Government on social security reform and to the OECD on social policy in Eastern Europe.

Cathy Thomson
Cathy Thomson is a Research Fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney and a Masters Degree from the University of New South Wales. She has been actively involved in research in the field of community care and carer issues for a number of years. In 1995 she worked on a pioneering longitudinal study of people being cared for in their own homes, which highlighted the value of support services in making continued care in the home possible. Her research interests include access to health and community care services; the impact of informal care on employment, health and financial security; informal care and time use; aged care issues; and children's services. Her expertise in the field of informal care has been recognised through the award of Australian Research Council grants where she is a co-Chief Investigator including: Time for Care, 2000, Identifying Isolated Carers, 2002, Negotiating Caring and Employment, 2004 and Young Carers, 2006. She is currently enrolled as a PhD candidate. Her research field is 'Carers and the costs of care in an ageing society'. In 2009 she was awarded a research scholarship from the Australian Institute for Population Ageing at the University of NSW.


Commissioner Linda Matthews is the South Australian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity and has held this position since May 1996. She has statutory powers to investigate and conciliate complaints of discrimination, to conduct enquiries and inform the community about their rights and responsibilities under Equal Opportunity laws.

Commissioner Matthews has previously held a number of high profile positions including Director of the Funding and Advocacy Division of the Intellectual Disability Services Council (1994-1996), Director of Rape and Sexual Assault Services (1993-1994) and Director of the Domestic Violence Prevention Unit (1990-1993).


Ruth Blenkiron is currently the Director: Human Resources at the University of South Australia (UniSA). She joined the University in July 2008 following several years as an Executive of the South Australian Public Service. Her last appointment was Director Workforce Development with the Department for Education and Children's Services (DECS). In this role she also led the iconic South Australian Centre for Leaders in Education [SACLE] with responsibility for leadership training and professional development. Ruth's return to the education sector was in April 2004 to lead the Office of the Chief Executive, after a diverse career in both public and private sector organisations, undertaking work in organisational review, restructure and reform.

Prior to her return to education Ruth was Registrar of the Supreme Court of South Australia and amongst other achievements managed the infamous 'Snowtown' murder trials. Her foray into the legal arena commenced with her appointment as Deputy Commissioner for Equal Opportunity earlier in her career. Previous professional positions have been as both Deputy Principal and Acting Principal of Seymour College [an Adelaide independent R-12 girls' school], consultant to business on organisational reform and management, Director of Strategic Development within DECS, Deputy Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Executive to five Director's General of Education (SA) -- adviser in curriculum, administrator of special education programmes and projects, and teacher both in primary, secondary and special education.

Her current role with UniSA to manage all human resource matters suits Ruth's passion and enthusiasm for the people side of organisations. Her role involves working directly with a new Vice Chancellor to implement strategies which will enhance the university reputation as an employer of choice. Ruth is a hands on leader who loves to think strategically but implement solutions pragmatically!


Sharon Irwin is currently Team Manager, Respite Services South, ACH Group. Sharon has had vast experience in crisis intervention programs designed to reduce the possibility of inappropriate hospitalisation or placement in residential care by assisting carers accessing community services. She is passionate about giving carers the opportunities to continue care for their loved ones at home, as well as having a life outside the caring role combined with remaining in employment or study if they so desire.

SafeWork SA is the lead agency for the South Australian Strategic Plan Target 2.12 "Improve the quality of life of all South Australians through the maintenance of a healthy Work Life Balance"

The SWSA WorkLife Balance Strategy

The SWSA WLB Strategy is working in three areas

  • Improving and promoting minimum standards and legislation that supports WLB
  • Developing an awareness raising programme and research to support WLB
  • Establishing partnerships with other government agencies to address the WLB target

Work Life Balance [WLB] is no longer a luxury item but a key industrial and OH&S issue for many workers struggling to reduce the tension between the demands of work and the responsibilities in the rest of their lives. For employers, looking at flexible work arrangements can improve attraction and retention, reduce turnover, absenteeism and rehabilitation costs, increase productivity and improve their standing as an 'Employer of Choice'.

For employee's, the opportunity to have some say over how work is organised and have some access to flexible work and leave arrangements enables young people, parents and older workers to access and stay in work and reduce the stress of juggling other responsibilities.

While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy - valuing our cultural diversity - and building our future

While the views presented by speakers within The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia, or The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: Strengthening our Democracy - Valuing our Diversity - Building our Future. The Hawke Centre reserves the right to change their program at any time without notice.