Framing work and retirement

Paid work and other productive work

2.29 ‘Work’ is often used to refer solely to the ‘production of economic goods and services’.[49] On this definition of work, persons providing care, as well as those who are retired or not otherwise seeking work, are considered to be not working or ‘outside the labour force’.[50] The ABS uses this definition of work in its Labour Force Survey. It includes among its examples of those who are ‘not working’, persons who are ‘staying home to look after children’.[51]

2.30 On this view, those in the ‘labour force’—the total number of employed plus unemployed persons—are ‘economically active’, while those outside the labour force are ‘economically inactive’.

2.31 However, an alternative definition takes a broader view of what may constitute ‘work’. Professor Barbara Pocock summarises this approach, arguing that:

Any account of Australian work, family and care cannot accurately represent experiences of ‘work’ without reference to a broad definition of labour … including both the spheres of production and reproduction, voluntary work, paid work and unpaid household work.[52]

2.32 On this broad view, work includes both paid and unpaid work, and unpaid work encompasses caring, household work, and voluntary work.

2.33 When adopting this broader characterisation, a gendered picture of work emerges, in which women are under-represented in paid work, and over-represented in unpaid work.[53]

Unpaid work

Unpaid care work

2.34 Unpaid care work includes ‘parental’ care for a dependent child or children. This care may be provided by a parent (adoptive, biological or step-parent), foster parent, guardian or grandparent.[54] Grandparents may also provide child care for grandchildren while the children’s parents work. Unpaid care work also includes care for ‘a family member or friend with disability, chronic illness or frailty due to older age, either co-resident or in a kinship or friendship network’.[55] This form of care is often referred to as ‘informal care’.[56]

2.35 Unpaid care work is mainly provided by women, a point highlighted by a number of submissions to this Inquiry.[57] A more detailed discussion of mature age carers is provided below.

2.36 While the value of unpaid care is excluded from conventional economic measures of productivity, such care does have economic value.[58] Dr Rania Antonopolous points out that unpaid care work acts as an invisible support to the paid workforce, arguing that ‘unpaid care work entails a systemic transfer of hidden subsidies to the rest of the economy that go unrecognized’.[59] In 2010, the annual ‘replacement value’ of informal care by family members—the cost of replacing unpaid carers with paid carers—was estimated at over $40 billion.[60]

2.37 Care also has value outside of an economic frame of reference. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) points out that:

Caring is valuable, necessary work … It occurs within a system of relationships in our society and is crucial to the social and economic fabric. Care will affect all of us in our lives, either as carers and/or being cared for … The recognition of care provision, both paid and unpaid, reflects the value placed on our shared humanity and the periods in our lives in which we all experience a need for support.[61]

Voluntary work

2.38 The ABS defines voluntary work as ‘the provision of unpaid help willingly undertaken in the form of time, service or skills, to an organisation or group, excluding work done overseas’.[62] Voluntary work, like unpaid care work, provides both economic and social benefits. In 2006–07, volunteering was estimated to amount to $14.6 billion worth of unpaid labour.[63] Professor Jeni Warburton sums up the social benefits of voluntary work:

high levels of volunteering within a society contribute to quality of life, security, safety, lower levels of crime, and better educational outcomes. These are all significant advantages, and are over and above, the direct contributions made by volunteers to the economically disadvantaged, the lonely and socially isolated, or those with poor health.[64]

2.39 In its submission, the Returned & Services League of Australia Ltd (RSL) highlighted the economic and social contribution made by RSL volunteers:

The annual economic and social benefit to Australian society of the work of the tens of thousands of RSL volunteers is enormous. These citizens, some in their 90s, give back to the Australian community far more than they receive—and they do it selflessly and without fanfare … It is not unreasonable to postulate that if Australia’s volunteers ceased to give so generously of their time, expertise and effort, the nation would be very much the poorer not least because of the increase this would pose on the public purse.[65]

The relationship between paid and unpaid work

Unpaid care work and paid work

2.40 While unpaid caring is a form of productive work, it also acts as a barrierto participation in the paid workforce. Providing care can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to enter and maintain employment. There is evidence that this impact disproportionately affects women.[66] Professor Bettina Cass, Dr Trish Hill and Cathy Thomson sum up the impact of care upon mature age women’s participation in employment:

Overall, 58 per cent of mature aged women primary carers were not in employment. Of this group 42 per cent had worked prior to taking on the caring role. Among the non-employed primary carers, around one quarter indicated that they would like to be in paid employment while caring for their main recipient.[67]

2.41 As a barrier to employment, unpaid care also restricts the accumulation of retirement income savings. The feminised nature of unpaid care contributes to the ‘gender gap’ in superannuation, whereby women have lower superannuation balances than men.[68]

2.42 While providing unpaid care may be a barrier to work for older persons, it may at the same time enable the workforce participation of other family members. For example, some grandparents provide child care for their grandchildren so that the children’s parents can work.

Increasing paid work and the impact on unpaid work

2.43 The interaction of paid work and unpaid care work is in flux. This is particularly the case because women, who have historically undertaken the bulk of unpaid care work, have increased their participation in the paid workforce. Pocock summarises the changes for women’s participation in these spheres over the latter half of the 20th century and early 2000s:

In 1966, 36 per cent of women were in the labour market, leaving 64 per cent outside it, participating in various forms of care and home life. By mid-2002, the situation was reversed, with over half of women—55 per cent—in the labour market and 45 per cent outside of it.[69]

2.44 This increased participation in the paid workforce has implications for the provision of care, which must be met by the ‘intensification of unpaid care work, or a contraction in the amount of unpaid care work that is done, or its redistribution to others’.[70]

2.45 Policy making in this area must navigate the complexity of the interaction between paid workforce participation and unpaid work.[71] This is particularly important in the context of an ageing population, as demands for care are likely to increase as the population ages.[72]

2.46 A focus on promoting paid workforce participation must also consider how and by whom care work is to be performed. Pocock argues that decisions about who will undertake care work should not be seen as purely individual choices. Instead they occur within a ‘work/care regime’: a set of interrelated social, cultural and institutional factors that shape the individual choices made about who will care.[73]

2.47 Policy decisions will affect the contours of this work/care regime. Responses that seek to value the contributions of both paid work and unpaid care work, and which enhance the capacity of persons to make choices about their engagement in various forms of productive work, will be multifaceted.

2.48 These will involve measures to improve the recognition and reward for unpaid care work, as well as enhancement of support services for carers.[74] Women in Social and Economic Research submitted that improvements to institutional support for carers are required for all carers, whether or not they are engaged in additional paid work. These support services ‘are likely to include the provision of affordable high quality residential, day and respite care for frail aged and adults and children with disabilities’.[75]

2.49 Another key area for policy focus is improving the ability to combine unpaid care work and paid work. This Inquiry contributes to this latter project by making recommendations aimed at addressing legal barriers inhibiting or preventing the combination of paid work and unpaid care work.

2.50 The notion of a work/care regime suggests that, while policy responses can have some impact on its form, they will also interact with cultural factors. These factors include workplace cultures, as well as norms of gendered behaviour—including understandings about the ‘normal’ or ‘appropriate’ division of labour between women and men.[76]

2.51 Similar tensions arise when considering the effect of increasing paid work participation on voluntary work. Bessy Andriotis notes that extended paid workforce participation at older ages is likely to have an impact on availability for voluntary work.[77]

Changing nature of paid work

2.52 The characteristics of paid work have undergone significant change since the early 1990s. These changes have continued a longer term trend of the ‘shift of employment away from blue-collar work to professional and paraprofessional jobs’.[78] The 2012 Fair Work Act Review Panel summed up some of these changes:

the proportion of employed people working in service industries has increased from 67 per cent to 72 per cent. The mining and construction workforces have increased, while the manufacturing and agriculture workforces have declined …

Over coming decades the manufacturing workforce will likely continue its long decline. As the current boom in new projects levels out, the rate of growth of the construction workforce will slow. The mining workforce will continue to expand but, even after doubling its relative size over the last decade, it remains (at 2 per cent) a small share of total employment.[79]

2.53 Forms of employment have also undergone major changes. One third of employment is now part-time, compared with less than one quarter in the early 1990s. Additionally, just under 25% of workers are employed casually. In 1992, casual employees constituted just over 20% of employment.[80]

2.54 Some argue that these more flexible employment arrangements promote productivity. The Fair Work Act Review Panel stated that:

More flexible labour market arrangements played a significant part in supporting continued strong growth … as well as limiting the impact of the global financial crisis (GFC) on unemployment by allowing for adjustments in hours worked rather than layoffs.[81]

2.55 Others argue that the growth of casual work erodes the rights and entitlements of workers. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted that:

Not only is casual and ad hoc employment a source of financial and social insecurity, it is also synonymous with weaker rights and entitlements, poorer career development opportunities and lower job satisfaction … In many cases, casual and insecure employment can lead to social exclusion, rather than social inclusion, by denying workers the chance to participate in the workforce in a meaningful way.[82]


2.56 Australia has no compulsory retirement age, and the distinction between ‘working life’ and ‘retirement’ can be difficult to draw.[83]

2.57 Australia’s retirement income system facilitates the redistribution of income over a person’s lifetime, providing financial support after the cessation of paid work.[84] Australia’s retirement income system has three pillars: the Australian Government funded, means tested Age Pension; compulsory saving through employer superannuation contributions (the superannuation guarantee); and voluntary superannuation savings.[85]

2.58 Access ages for these sources of retirement income do not provide a definitive marker of the division between work and retirement.[86] Many retired persons do report that reaching the age of eligibility for the Age Pension or access to superannuation was their main reason for retirement.[87] However, a person with sufficient private means may choose to retire before this time. Moreover, it is possible in certain circumstances to combine the receipt of the Age Pension with employment income, and to access superannuation while remaining in paid work. These circumstances are detailed in Chapters 6 and 7.

2.59 The conventional view of a cessation of paid work as ‘retirement’ may accord more with a normative male experience of working life than that of females. Eva Cox submitted that the language of working life and retirement is

built mainly on a male post industrial revolution view of the worker who leaves home to go to waged work, has leisure out of the job hours and eventually ‘retires’ to presumably pursue full time leisure.[88]

2.60 Where the notion of work is broadened to include both paid and unpaid work, it becomes clear that, for many, ‘retirement’ involves continued work in the form of unpaid caring. Additionally, many older persons perform voluntary work after ceasing paid work.

2.61 Even when working with a traditional understanding of retirement as a final cessation of paid work, the decision to stop working may not be voluntary. For example, among retired persons whose last job was fewer than 20 years ago, 26% of men and 21% of women reported that the main reason for retirement was ‘sickness, injury or disability’.[89]

2.62 In addition, the line between a retired person and a ‘discouraged job seeker’ may be difficult to draw. Older persons make up a large proportion of the pool of ‘discouraged job seekers’: persons who are willing and able to work, but are not looking for a job because they believe that they would not find one.[90] ABS statistics showed in 2011 that over half of discouraged job seekers (56%) were aged over 55 years.[91]

2.63 The changing nature of the paid labour force also means that a model of continuous participation in paid work, followed by retirement, may no longer be the norm. Instead, working life may be marked by a cycling in and out of paid work.

2.64 This may be particularly the case in certain industries or sectors. For example, the industry superannuation fund, Construction and Building Industry Super (Cbus), noted that in the construction industry, employment is often ‘defined by a discrete project’. This may affect older workers’ opportunities for continued employment:

Employees need to be hired and re-hired many times throughout the economic cycle. In a market where physical ability is a significant factor in recruitment, it is probable that younger workers will be preferred over older workers. In normal labour market conditions where there is some excess supply, older workers will be amongst the last to obtain work.[92]

2.65 A similar experience of work was identified by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance in relation to the workforce it represents:

In the case of performers there is no real notion of retirement. This is due to the nature of the profession including the long periods of unemployment, the inherent value of personal expression that lies at the heart of the profession and the creative requirements for older (and younger) actors in productions. With no obligation to contribute superannuation upon employers these workers are encumbered with additional administrative burdens and costs in organising their own superannuation.[93]

2.66 Summing up the implications of these changes to the later stages of paid working life, National Seniors suggested that a ‘work-retirement continuum’ has emerged:

Increasingly, people no longer work full-time, and then leave the workforce completely, becoming fully retired. For up to 20 years, a person’s level of engagement in the workforce may cycle between periods of no paid work, full-time work and various levels of part-time paid work.[94]

[49] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force (2003) <
/DSSbyCollectionid/> at 21 March 2013.

[50] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Persons Not in the Labour Force, Australia, Sep 2011, Cat No 6220.0 (2012).At September 2011, there were almost 6 million persons outside the labour force—approximately one-third of the population. Of these, 60% were women.

[51] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Australia, Jan 2013, Cat No 6202.0 (2013).

[52] B Pocock, ‘Work/Care Regimes: Institutions, Culture and Behaviour and the Australian Case’ (2005) 12 Gender, Work & Organization 32, 33. See also Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘Cooking and Caring, Building and Repairing: Unpaid Work Around the World’ in Society at a Glance 2011: OECD Social Indicators (2011), which defines unpaid work as ‘the production of goods and services by family members that are not sold on the market’: 10.

[53] B Pocock, ‘Work/Care Regimes: Institutions, Culture and Behaviour and the Australian Case’ (2005) 12 Gender, Work & Organization 32, 33.

[54] Australian Human Rights Commission, Investing in Care: Recognising and Valuing Those Who Care, Research Report Volume 1 (2013), 21.

[55] Ibid.

[56] The ABS refers to informal caring as informal assistance with core activities which is ongoing or likely to be ongoing for at least 6 months and is provided by friends or family members to people with a disability, long-term health condition or the elderly: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers: Summary of Findings, Cat No 4430.0 (2003), 10.

[57] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing: Basic Community Profile, 2011 Second Release Cat No 2001.0 (2012), Table B22; Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings Cat No 4430.0 (2009), 10. Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 54; Older Women’s Network NSW Inc, Submission 26; The Premier’s Council for Women South Australia, Submission 13.

[58] The ABS summarises this as follows: ‘the economically active population is defined as all people who, during a specified time, contribute to or are available to contribute to the production of economic goods and services as defined by the United Nations System of National Accounts’: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, Apr 2007 Cat No 6102.0.55.001 (2007).

[59] R Antonopolous, The Unpaid Care Work–Paid Work Connection (2008), The Levy Economics Institute Working Paper No 541, 6.

[60] Access Economics, The Economic Value of Informal Care in 2010—Report for Carers Australia (2010), i.

[61] Australian Human Rights Commission, Investing in Care: Recognising and Valuing Those Who Care, Research Report Volume 1 (2013), 18.

[62] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Voluntary Work, Australia, 2010 Cat No 4441.0 (2011), 63.

[63] Volunteering Australia, State of Volunteering in Australia 2012 (2012), 10.

[64] J Warburton, Volunteering by Older People: The Benefits and Challenges for Seniors and for Organisations: Latest Research Evidence (2012), 3.

[65] The Returned & Services League of Australia Ltd, Submission 24.

[66] M Bittman, T Hill and C Thomson, ‘The Impact of Caring on Informal Carers’ Employment, Income and Earnings: a Longitudinal Approach’ (2007) 42(2) The Australian Journal of Social Issues 255; C Lee and H Gramotnev, ‘Transitions Into and Out of Caregiving: Health and Social Characteristics of Mid-age Australian Women’ (2007) 22 Psychology and Health 193.

[67] B Cass, T Hill, C Thomson, Care to Work? Expanding Choice and Access to Workforce Participation for Mature Aged Women Carers (2012), HC Coombs Policy Forum, 22.

[68] See Australian Human Rights Commission, Accumulating Poverty? Women’s Experiences of Inequality Over the Lifecycle (2009).

[69] B Pocock, ‘Work/Care Regimes: Institutions, Culture and Behaviour and the Australian Case’ (2005) 12 Gender, Work & Organization 32, 34.

[70] Ibid. The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia identified the intensification of unpaid care work as a particular issue for CALD communities: Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia (FECCA), Submission 80.

[71] See, eg N Skinner, C Hutchinson and B Pocock, Australian Work and Life Index 2012 The Big Squeeze: Work, Home and Care in 2012 (2012), 14.

[72] The Law Council of Australia highlighted the need also to consider aged care policy in this context: Law Council of Australia, Submission 46.

[73] B Pocock, ‘Work/Care Regimes: Institutions, Culture and Behaviour and the Australian Case’ (2005) 12 Gender, Work & Organization 32, 38.

[74] The Australian Government has developed a National Carers Recognition Framework. This framework has two pillars: the Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Cth) and the National Carer Strategy: Australian Government, National Carer Strategy (2011). The Australian Human Rights Commission make a number of suggestions for further reform to better recognise unpaid care in: Australian Human Rights Commission, Investing in Care: Recognising and Valuing Those Who Care, Research Report, Volume 1 (2013).

[75] Women in Social & Economic Research (WiSER), Submission 72.

[76] B Pocock, ‘Work/Care Regimes: Institutions, Culture and Behaviour and the Australian Case’ (2005) 12 Gender, Work & Organization 32, 38.

[77] B Andriotis, Hand in Glove—Participation in Paid and Voluntary Work by Older Australians (2012), prepared for Volunteering Tasmania’s State of Volunteering Report 2012, 173.

[78] P McDonald, ‘Employment at Older Ages in Australia: Determinants and Trends’ in T Griffin and F Beddie (eds), Older Workers: Research Readings (2011) 25, 39.

[79] Fair Work Act Review Panel, Towards More Productive and Equitable Workplaces: An Evaluation of the Fair Work Legislation (2012), 56.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid, 64.

[82] ACTU, Submission 38.

[83] For an overview of the history of compulsory retirement in Australia, see R Patterson, ‘The Eradication of Compulsory Retirement and Age Discrimination in the Australian Workplace: A Cause for Celebration and Concern’ (2004) 3 Elder Law Review 1.

[84] FaHCSIA, Pension Review Report (2009), 5.

[85] The Treasury, Australia’s Future Tax System: The Retirement Income System—Report on Strategic Issues (2009), 8. The Age Pension is considered in more detail in Chapter 7. Superannuation is considered in Chapter 8.

[86] Persons may access superannuation benefits at ‘preservation age’ if retired, or under the ‘Transition to Retirement Rules’; or at age 65 with no restrictions: Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994 (Cth) reg 6.01; sch 1 item 101; sch 1 item 110; sch 1 item 106. The current preservation age is 55 years, increasing gradually to 60 years between 2015–2025: Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations 1994 (Cth) reg 6.01. The qualifying age for the Age Pension is 65 years for men and 64.5 years for women: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) ss 23(5A), (5C). From 1 July 2013 the qualifying age for women will be 65 years: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 23(5D). Age Pension age for both men and women will rise incrementally from 65 to 67 between 1 July 2017 and 1 July 2023: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 23(5A), (5D).

[87] The ABS reports that ‘among both retired men and women whose last job was fewer than 20 years ago, the most commonly reported main reason for ceasing their last job was “reached retirement age/eligible for superannuation/pension” (44% of men and 27% of women)’: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, July 2010 to June 2011, Cat No 6238.0 (2011), 5.

[88] Women’s Equity Think Tank, Submission 63.

[89] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, July 2010 to June 2011, Cat No 6238.0 (2011), 5. Additionally, a 2012 study by the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre found that 45.4% of surveyed retirees had ceased work due to health reasons: National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre, Ageing Baby Boomers in Australia: Informing Actions for Better Retirement (2012), 4.

[90] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Persons Not in the Labour Force, Australia, Sep 2011, Cat No 6220.0 (2012).

[91] Ibid. Of these, 32% were aged 65 years and over and 24% were aged 55–64 years.

[92] Cbus, Submission 41.

[93] Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Submission 33.

[94] National Seniors Australia, Submission 27.