Chapter 7: What’s IR got to do with it? Building gender equality in the post-pandemic future of work
Open access

In Australia and globally, deeply entrenched workplace gender inequalities - such as women’s dominance in precarious work, labour market gender segregation, and the gendered division of unpaid labour - were exposed or even exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic period. In this chapter, we draw on Australian data to examine the gendered nature of the crisis and to recommend critical industrial relations levers to build gender equality post-pandemic. We find that during the pandemic, women workers were more likely to lose jobs and hours than their male counterparts; essential, frontline workforces were highly feminized, underpaid and exposed to significant stress and health risks; and that the gender gap in unpaid domestic and care work widened. Each of these risk entrenching pre-existing gender inequalities after the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguing that industrial relations represents a key arena in which to build gender equality post-pandemic, we recommend improving pay and conditions in feminized and undervalued sectors, and providing access to more secure employment with employee-oriented flexibility.

  • ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2020. Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly. Cat. No. 6291.0.55.003. May 2020. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2021a. Labour Force, Australia. Cat. No. 6202. October 2021. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2021b. Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia. Cat. No. 6306.0. May 2021. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2022a. Labour Force, Australia, Detailed. Cat. No. 6291.0.55.001. June 2022. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2022b. Characteristics of Employment, Australia. Cat. No. 6330. December 2022. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • Albanese, Anthony. 2022. Labor to Deliver Fair Pay & Conditions for Working Women. Australian Labor Party Media Release, 1 May 2022.

  • Baird, Marian, Rae Cooper, and Bradon Ellem. 2009. Low-paid Women: The Impact of Regulatory Change in Australia. Industrial Relations Journal 40(5): 393–407.

  • Baird, Marian, Sue Williamson, and Alexandra Heron. 2012. Women, Work and Policy Settings in Australia in 2011. Journal of Industrial Relations 54(3): 326–343.

  • Bennett, Laura. 1986. Job Classification and Women Workers: Institutional Practices, Technological Change and the Conciliation and Arbitration System 1907–72. Labour History 51: 11–23.

  • Bessa, Ioulia, and Jennifer Tomlinson. 2017. Established, Accelerated and Emergent Themes in Flexible Work Research. Journal of Industrial Relations 59(2): 153–169.

  • Birch, Elisa, and Alison Preston. 2021. Women, COVID-19 and Superannuation. Australian Journal of Labour Economics 24(2): 175–198.

  • Birch, Elisa, and Alison Preston. 2022. The Australian Labour Market in 2021. Journal of Industrial Relations 64(3): 327–346.

  • Boxall, Hayley, and Anthony Morgan. 2021. Experiences of Coercive Control Among Australian Women. Statistical Bulletin No. 30. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

  • Burgess, John, Iain Campbell, and Robyn May. 2008. Pathways from Casual Employment to Economic Security: The Australian Experience. Social Indicators Research 88: 161–178.

  • Campbell, Iain, Fiona Macdonald, and Sara Charlesworth. 2019. On-demand Work in Australia. In Zero Hours and On-call Work in Anglo-Saxon Countries, edited by Michelle O’Sullivan, Jonathan Lavelle, Juliet McMahon, Lorraine Ryan, Caroline Murphy, Thomas Turner, and Patrick Gunnigle, 67–90. Singapore: Springer.

  • Charlesworth, Sara. 2012. Decent Working Conditions for Care Workers? The Intersections of Employment Regulation, the Funding Market and Gender Norms. Australian Journal of Labour Law 25(2): 107–127.

  • Charlesworth, Sara, and Alexandra Heron. 2012. New Australian Working Time Minimum Standards: Reproducing the Same Old Gendered Architecture? Journal of Industrial Relations 54(2): 164–181.

  • Chung, Heejung. 2020. Gender, Flexibility Stigma and the Perceived Negative Consequences of Flexible Working in the UK. Social Indicators Research 151(2): 521–545.

  • Chung, Heejung, Holly Birkett, Sarah Forbes, and Hyojin Seo. 2021. Covid-19, Flexible Working, and Implications for Gender Equality in the United Kingdom. Gender & Society 35(2): 218–232.

  • Commonwealth of Australia. 2022. Parliamentary Debates: House of Representatives: Hansard, 27 October: 4–10.

  • Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Education and Training. 2017. 2016 Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census Report. September. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • Commonwealth of Australia, National Skills Commission. 2021. The State of Australia’s Skills 2021: Now and Into the Future. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • Cooper, Rae. 2014. Low-paid Care Work, Bargaining, and Employee Voice in Australia. In Voices at Work: Continuity and Change in the Common Law World, edited by Alan Bogg and Tonia Novitz, 55–66. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Cooper, Rae, and Marian Baird. 2015. Bringing the ‘Right to Request’ Flexible Working Arrangements to Life: From Policies to Practices. Employee Relations: The International Journal 37(5): 568–581.

  • Cooper, Rae, and Bradon Ellem. 2012. Getting to the Table? Fair Work, Unions and Collective Bargaining. In Rediscovering Collective Bargaining: Australia’s Fair Work Act in International Perspective, edited by Breen Creighton and Anthony Forsyth, 135–158. New York: Routledge.

  • Cooper, Rae, and Elizabeth Hill. 2021. Building Access to High-quality Flexible Work. Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative Insights Series. Sydney: University of Sydney.

  • Cooper, Rae, and Elizabeth Hill. 2022. What do Women Want from Work Post-pandemic? A Qualitative Study of Women in Western Sydney. Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative. Sydney: University of Sydney.

  • Cooper, Rae, Sarah Mosseri, Ariadne Vromen, Marian Baird, Elizabeth Hill, and Elsbeth Probyn. 2021. Gender Matters: A Multilevel Analysis of Gender and Voice at Work. British Journal of Management 32(3): 725–743.

  • Cortis, Natasha, Megan Blaxland, and Sara Charlesworth. 2021. Challenges of Work, Family and Care for Australia’s Retail, Online Retail, Warehousing and Fast Food Workers. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.

  • Craig, Lyn, and Brendan Churchill. 2021. Dual-earner Parent Couples’ Work and Care During COVID-19. Gender, Work & Organization 28(S1): 66–79.

  • Davy, Laura, and Ariadne Vromen. 2023. Care in Context: Australian Perspectives on Caregiving and Care Work During COVID-19. Canberra: Australian National University.

  • De Henau, Jérôme, and Susan Himmelweit. 2021. A Care-led Recovery from Covid-19: Investing in High-quality Care to Stimulate and Rebalance the Economy. Feminist Economics 27(1–2): 453–469.

  • Ellem, Bradon. 1999. Women’s Rights and Industrial Relations under the Postwar Compact in Australia. International Labor and Working-Class History 56: 45–64.

  • Foley, Meraiah, and Rae Cooper. 2021. Workplace Gender Equality in the Post-pandemic Era: Where to Next? Journal of Industrial Relations 63(4): 463–476.

  • Foley, Meraiah, Briony Lipton, Rae Cooper, Ariadne Vromen, and Serrin Rutledge-Prior. 2022. Gender Equality and the Future of the Legal Profession: Summary of Findings. Sydney: University of Sydney Business School and Australian National University.

  • Forsyth, Anthony. 2019. Where to Now for Unions and ‘Change the Rules’? The Conversation, 23 May.

  • Frances, Raelene. 2000. One Hundred Years of Women’s Wage-fixing. Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies 5(2): 84–93.

  • GenVic (Gender Equity Victoria). 2021. This Conversation is Not Over: Women’s Mental Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Victoria: Gender Equity Victoria.

  • Gilfillan, Geoff. 2020. COVID-19: Impacts on Casual Workers in Australia – A

  • Statistical Snapshot. Canberra: Australian Parliament House.

  • Gross, Agathe, and Sam Mostyn. 2021. Equitable Flexibility: Reshaping our Workforce. Chief Executive Women and Bain and Company.

  • Hatcher, Adam. 2022. President’s Statement: Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs Better Pay) Act 2022. 8 December. Australia: Fair Work Commission.

  • Hill, Elizabeth. 2020. Reducing Gender Inequality and Boosting the Economy: Fiscal Policy After COVID-19. Labour Market Policy after COVID-19. Committee on Economic Development in Australia (CEDA), September 2020.

  • Hill, Elizabeth, and Rae Cooper. 2021. COVID-19, Gender and Work, October 2021. Gender Equality in Working Life Research Initiative Insights Series. Sydney: University of Sydney.

  • Hill, Elizabeth, Rae Cooper, Ariadne Vromen, Meraiah Foley, and Suneha Seetahul. 2023. Gender Dynamics in the Post-pandemic Future of Work. High Level Data Release for International Women’s Day 2023. Research Note 1, Australian Women’s Working Futures Project. Sydney: University of Sydney.

  • Hitch, Georgia, and Jordan Hayne. 2020. What’s Being Done Nationally to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreaks in Aged Care Homes? ABC News, 27 July 2020.

  • Lee, Talara, Laura Good, Briony Lipton, and Rae Cooper. 2022. Women, Work and Industrial Relations in Australia in 2021. Journal of Industrial Relations 64(3): 347–361.

  • Macdonald, Fiona. 2021. Individualising Risk: Paid Care Work in the New Gig Economy. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Macdonald, Fiona, and Sara Charlesworth. 2021. Regulating for Gender-equitable Decent Work in Social and Community Services: Bringing the State back in. Journal of Industrial Relations 63(4): 477–500.

  • Markey, Raymond, and Joseph McIvor. 2018. Regulating Casual Employment in Australia. Journal of Industrial Relations 60(5): 593–618.

  • McCutcheon, Peter. 2022. Childcare Sector Reaching Crisis Point Over Workforce Shortages and Low Wages. ABC News, 10 August.

  • Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. 2022. Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia Registrant data. March 2022. www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/About/Statistics.aspx.

  • Pocock, Barbara. 2003. The Work/Life Collision: What Work is Doing to Australians and What to Do About It. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press.

  • Pocock, B., and Charlesworth, S. (2017). Multilevel Work–Family Interventions: Creating Good-quality Employment Over the Life Course. Work and Occupations 44(1): 23–46.

  • Ravenswood, Katherine, and Raymond Markey. 2018. Gender and Voice in Aged Care: Embeddedness and Institutional Forces. The International Journal of Human Resource Management 29(5): 725–745.

  • Remekis, Amy. 2022. Childcare Workers to Strike on 7 September as Union Says Sector Needs Serious Overhaul. The Guardian, 21 July.

  • Risse, Leonora, and Angela Jackson. 2021. A Gender Lens on the Workforce Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia. Australian Journal of Labour Economics 24(2): 111–143.

  • Roderick, Troy. 2018. Does this Desk Make my Job Look Big? The Design, Implementation and Impact of ‘All Roles Flex’ in a Range of Australian Organisations. Sydney Policy Lab and Women Work and Leadership Working Paper. Sydney: University of Sydney.

  • Skinner, N., and Pocock, B. 2014. The Persistent Challenge: Living, Working and Caring in Australia in 2014. University of South Australia.

  • Smith, Meg, and Gillian Whitehouse. 2020. Wage-setting and Gender Pay Equality in Australia: Advances, Retreats and Future Prospects. Journal of Industrial Relations 62(4): 533–559.

  • Tomlinson, Jennifer, Marian Baird, Peter Berg, and Rae Cooper. 2018. Flexible Career Across the Life Course: Advancing Theory, Research and Practice. Human Relations 71(1): 4–22.

  • Wilkins, Roger, and Inga Lass. 2018. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 16. 13th Annual Statistical Report of The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

  • Williamson, Sue, Meraiah Foley, and Natalie Cartwright. 2019. Women, Work and Industrial Relations in Australia in 2018. Journal of Industrial Relations 61(3): 342–356.

  • Wood, Danielle, Kate Griffiths, and Tom Crowley. 2021. Women’s Work: The Impact of the COVID Crisis on Australian Women. Melbourne: Grattan Institute.

  • WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency). 2021. Flexible Work Post-COVID. December. https://www.wgea.gov.au/publications/flexible-work-post-covid.

Monograph Book