New study highlights impact of work reforms on regional communities

Published 15 November 2007

The combination of the WorkChoices and Welfare to Work reforms could lead to diminished prospects and quality of life for ‘vulnerable’ people in regional communities, a new study has found.

The study, by Dr Sandy Darab and Dr Yvonne Hartman, from Southern Cross University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences, is the first phase of a longitudinal project investigating the impacts of WorkChoices and Welfare to Work reform on the lived experiences of residents in regional NSW.

The preliminary findings will be presented at the ‘Challenge to Restore Full Employment’ conference, being hosted by the University of Newcastle in early December.

Dr Darab said the initial qualitative study was based on interviews with 15 participants located in the Northern Rivers region between July and September of this year.

“These findings, while not comprehensive, provide some insights into the reforms’ impacts and are in line with those of other qualitative studies that have recently been conducted. Most importantly, the study offers some understanding of the effect of the changes on regional Australians who are under-represented in current studies,” Dr Darab said.

“Regional areas contain pockets of poverty and disadvantage which do not often come to public notice and are therefore largely invisible. Yet, their residents are the very people who, lacking any serious bargaining power, may well be adversely affected by the two sets of reforms.”

“There is a connection between WorkChoices and Welfare reform that is not well understood, as each piece of legislation reinforced the power of the other,” Dr Hartman said.

She said the study looked at four main impacts: material effects; social and emotional effects; disciplinary effects; and work/care clash.

The initial findings showed the reforms had led to lower wages, reduced work conditions and entitlements that directly and negatively affected workers and their families.

“We also found that people were adversely affected socially and emotionally by these reforms. Workers reported stress, uncertainty, depression, lowered self-esteem, a sense of hopelessness and exhaustion, which have repercussions beyond the workplace and upon partners and children,” Dr Hartman said.

The next phase of the independent study will involve participants from the Hunter region in NSW.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.