Survey hints at reason for rising work-related stress claims

In an impassioned address to the National Press Club in Canberra on 7 September, ACTU president Ged Kearney has outlined the findings of a survey of 42,000 workers that could help explain Australia's increasing stress-claims rate.

The "working Australia census" found that more than three in five (61%) respondents work more hours than they are paid for, 73 per cent are regularly contacted outside of work hours about their job, and 58 per cent have not been compensated for work-related expenses they paid for, Kearney said.

"For some people, work is less physically demanding [than in the past] but there are new stresses and pressures," she said.

"The trend in recent years is for an increase in overtime, often unpaid. Technology has... increased the expectation that workers are always available to employers.

"Work is bleeding into people's home lives, and we do not have the means of recognising or dealing with this in a way that suits workers.

"Instead we have an increase in stress, and insecurity. This is particularly the case for people in casual jobs, who fear they will lose shifts if they do not comply."

For workers, calls from employer groups or the media to improve productivity "all too-often means unpaid hours, phone calls out of work and doing more for less", Kearney said.

"Business is shifting more and more financial risk and responsibility onto the workforce," she said.

"Why is it that a fall in productivity is always the fault of the workers, never of poor management decisions, or a lack of investment?

"Why is it that insecure work, reduced pay and conditions, and attacks on the power to bargain collectively are seen as the only way we can compete internationally?"

According to Kearney, Australia is a country in which "certain orthodoxies of business" are rarely questioned, and "where the ACCI and the BCA are seen as neutral commentators on the economy".

But business groups "do not represent mainstream Australia", and the belief that reducing workers' entitlements will create more jobs "has been totally discredited" by the US recession, she said.

"The café-owner who believes abolishing penalty rates is the key to making his business more profitable forgets that... lower wages mean that people have less to spend on discretionary items like their morning coffee."