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In This Newsletter
Welcome to the second issue of the CPOW Newsletter for 2020

In Australia, the fragmentation of employment and the rapid growth of insecure forms of work, from weakened labour protections for part-time workers in hospitality, retail and care work to casualisation, labour hire and gig work, have left a diverse range of people and communities vulnerable and often without any form of income protection. One of the hardest hit groups are temporary visa holders, including working holiday makers and international students, on whom Australia has relied to plug holes in areas of labour shortage.

In this newsletter, two CPOW members look at the impact of COVID-19 on the people with whom their   research is concerned. Annie Delaney outlines the steps that   major clothing brands could take to provide better protection for the   informal women homeworkers on whom their production supply chains depend. In   the Australian context, Fiona Macdonald and Raelene West raise the very real   risks that disability support workers face in their day-to-day work during   the COVID-19 pandemic. These risks, while hidden from view, have been   amplified by the unregulated and insecure employment that underpins the   delivery of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Distinguished Professor Sara Charlesworth
Director, Centre for People, Organisation & Work

On Futures of Work
In the COVID 19 era, decent work for home-based workers is the most gender-friendly action brands can take

It is mainly women doing home-based work, as it offers them a means to earn an income and balance their care responsibilities. Homeworkers share with many women the social burden commonly referred to as social reproductive labour, of being primarily responsible for the care of children, family members and often additional activities to support the wider community. Although families, communities, societies and companies all benefit from women’s unpaid labour, this critical contribution is rarely recognised or rewarded.

Local firms replicate societal trends that undervalue women's work when they do not recognise homeworkers as workers. Instead, many consider the women as doing the paid work in their spare time, for 'pin money' and as a result, do not need to earn a real living wage—reinforcing the existing gender inequalities in society.

Homeworking remains a constant feature of global garment production as it offers a means for local suppliers to reduce costs and respond to the demands of brands. As a result, homeworkers are amongst the most vulnerable and marginalised workers in the supply chain. Their lack of collective representation and capacity to bargain via a union also limits homeworkers ability to improve their overall situation. Many homeworkers face the real possibility of losing their work if they speak out about their work conditions or try to organise together to improve their working lives.

Steps brands can take:

  • Conduct due diligence across their whole supply chain, including the informal workers in the lower tiers;
  • Recognise the presence of homeworkers in the supply chain;
  • Enable suppliers to be more open when they use homeworkers;
  • Ensure that homeworkers within their supply chain are treated equitably;
  • Provide suppliers with reasonable time frames, commit to existing contracts and spread out work over the year, during the COVID-19 lockdown period; and
  • Improve transparency across the supply chain can improve homeworker’s capacity to safely raise grievances, organise and firms are held accountable.

Is it time for homeworkers to be treated fairly? If brands can ensure homeworkers receive a living wage and regular work, this would be life-changing for many women homeworkers. Ultimately, respect for homeworker work and collective rights are the most gender-friendly actions brands could take. Life after coronavirus offers a way to reimagine capitalism, let’s hope this is possible, and that it delivers a better deal to the millions of informal women homeworkers.

*Annie‘s recent book is Homeworking Women: A gender justice perspective 

Disability support workers: invisible and unsupported in the face of COVID-19?

Workers provide support in private homes, assisting people to perform daily tasks such as getting up in the morning and getting ready for bed at night, bathing, eating and managing medication.

In the face of COVID-19, disability support workers—along with homecare workers who care for elderly people—confront the risks of contracting and transmitting the deadly virus every day. Many have little option but to work, as they need the money and they know their support is essential. Support workers are mostly women and they are low paid. Increasingly they are likely to be in insecure employment, in jobs that offer short hours work, and often holding multiple jobs to make a living. These workers have been virtually invisible in current public discussions of essential services, along with the people with disability they support.

A big problem in the current crisis is that some workers may have virtually no organisational support or assistance to undertake their work safely. Anecdotal accounts indicate support workers are providing personal care without advice or training on infection risks and how to avoid them, without advice on how and when to use personal protective equipment and without access to equipment at all, including face masks, gloves and hand sanitiser. Workers are performing hours of unpaid work trying to source essential supplies for people they support; some have even sewn masks themselves. 

This essential work has become highly unregulated under the NDIS individualised support model. Support workers are treated as unskilled and there is no mandatory worker registration. Some workers are engaged through digital platforms as independent contractors, others are employed or engaged directly by people with disability. They are in insecure employment, mostly without access to sick leave and other employment benefits and protections. It is not only contractors and directly engaged workers who are working in isolation. Others employed casually report there is often little or no oversight of their work, making them highly reliant on their own and their clients’ resources and knowledge to minimise risks, meet support needs and ensure safety. Support workers in group settings have been stood down or lost hours; other workers are picking up extra work time in home-based support with new clients. This has disrupted continuity of care, increasing risks for workers and for people with disability who rely on worker familiarity, skill and knowledge to provide this continuity to ensure their wellbeing, health and safety.

The current crisis is highlighting some of the problems of individualising employment and devolving employment risks and responsibilities to vulnerable workers. It is also highlighting the risks of an individualised market-based disability support system in which consumer choice and control are supposed to ensure acceptable quality and safety. Perhaps it is time to value care work properly and to provide support workers with secure jobs.

Featured CPOW Researchers

Cameron regularly collaborates with national and international research partners, and he publishes the results of this research in the top international journals in organisational studies, health and social care, sociology, geography and planning, public health and medical anthropology.

Cameron is currently leading a large AHURI Inquiry Program exploring pathways out of institutional settings for individuals with a history of housing insecurity. Working with colleagues at the University of New South Wales, Curtin University and the University of Tasmania, the program involves three linked projects; one exploring experiences of people leaving residential treatment for mental health conditions; another exploring experiences exiting custodial settings; and a third project exploring transitions from out of home care. With colleagues, Cameron has also been successful in securing funding support through the Australian Research Council for a Linkage project exploring organisational responses to mental health problems in the workplace. This research commenced in March 2020 and will conclude in mid 2023.


Apart from her PhD research, Shirley has been a tutor, marker and research assistant with RMIT University and is currently tutoring in Organisational Analysis and Contemporary Management: Issues and Challenges.

CPOW & Enabling Capability Platforms

RMIT University’s cross organisational research effort is focused through 8 Enabling Capability Platforms (ECPs). The ECPs ‘connect researchers from multiple disciplines and from across Colleges under a thematic umbrella’. Their aim is to allow RMIT to deploy its areas of research excellence and strength ‘to comprehensively address critical local, national, regional and global challenges and to nimbly capture emerging opportunities’.

Many CPOW members are affiliates of most of the 8 ECPs and CPOW is represented on the executive of three ECPs by the following members:

We would all be happy to talk to you in more depth about the current activities of each of these ECPs. Many CPOW members are also affiliates of, and work closely with, the Global Business Innovation ECP. Until recently the ECPs have provided four main streams of internal research funding. CPOW members have successfully applied for grants in these streams:

  • Capability Development Fund (CDF)
  • Strategic Capability Development Fund (SCDF)
  • ECP Opportunity Fund: Translation and Impact (EOF – TI)
  • Concept Papers

Currently, the first round of 2020 CDF and SCDF grant applications are still under consideration. However, in the COVID-19 era, some of the planned ECP funding streams for 2020 may be postponed into 2021.

Nevertheless, ECPs continue to run a variety of virtual workshops and activities. Announcement of workshops and funding streams are made through the ECP email newsletters and in direct emails to ECP affiliates. 

So if you are not an affiliate of any ECP, register using your RMIT email address at: https://tinyurl.com/RMITECP. You can sign up to as many ECPs as you are interested in. Once you sign up you will be added to platform mailing lists.

Engagement & Impact
Dr Louise Byrne at the National Mental Health Research Strategy Workshop.

(Louise Byrne. Photo: Til Wykes)

Louise Byrne recently presented a keynote on lived experience engagement in research at the National Mental Health Commission's (NMHC) 'National Mental Health Research Strategy Workshop' in Sydney. The Strategy is an action from the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan and will inform future funding priorities for mental health nationally.

In 2019, the NMHC also engaged Louise and her research team including Dr Lena Wang, another CPOW member, to assist with engagement processes and drafting of the National Peer Workforce Development Guidelines. The Guidelines are another action from the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan and will be the first national policy document for this workforce.

Recently Louise and Lena received a contract extension and will now take the draft Guidelines to public consultation before creating a final draft. The contract extension of $55,888 takes the total to $165,367.

Professor Lisa French reappointed to Gender Matters Taskforce

(Prof. Lisa French (middle row, far left) and the Gender Matters Taskforce. Photo: Daniel Boud)

CPOW member and the Dean of the School of Media and Communication, Professor Lisa French, has been appointed to the refreshed Screen Australia Gender Matters Taskforce. Taking its name from French’s research, Does Gender Matter?, the Task Force is an advisory body charged with increasing the representation of women in film and television since it was formed in 2016. Lisa notes that the Gender Matters strategy had had a commendable impact: ‘The initiative has created momentum to lobby for women and created greater visibility of their achievements,’ she said.

Keeping sane in the face of intense work demands: How child protection workers navigate their professional and personal lives

(Photo: Pexels.com)

CPOW members, Dr Carys Chan and Dr Shea Fan, together with Assoc. Prof. Darryn Snell, are investigators of a project that examines how child protection (CP) workers in Australia navigate their professional (work–client) and personal (work–life) lives. They are currently conducting a qualitative study based on semi-structured interviews of CP workers in Australia, and are still looking for more CP workers to interview. To assist this research team please forward the following information through your networks where appropriate.

Featured Publication
CPOW member, Dr Lena Wang and colleagues: Effects of chronic job insecurity on Big Five personality change

(Dr Lena Wang. Photo: Peter Nowotnik)

Wu, C. H., Wang, Y., Parker, S. K., & Griffin, M. A. (In press) Effects of chronic job insecurity on Big Five personality change. Journal of Applied Psychology [ABDC = A*]

What is the research about?

The paper explores how employees’ personality can be changed when we are chronically exposed to job insecurity. In this study, we analysed nationally representative sample from a wide range of employees in Australia (using the HILDA dataset). Tracking these employees over 9 years, we found that when they experienced chronic job insecurity, their personality changed for the worse, such that their emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness all reduced over time.

Why is this important?

Job insecurity is broadly experienced by many employees, due to various significant social changes, such as the casualisation of jobs, increased competition from the market, frequent organisational change, the increased level of autonomation. Moreover, it seems that for some employees, job insecurity is becoming a chronic rather than a temporary experience. While earlier, although limited, research shows that such chronic job insecurity can negatively impact employees’ work attitude, commitment to organisations, and physical and mental health, our research shows that it may have a more permanent impact in that it can change who we are. 

What was surprising?

Some people may think that job insecurity may be a good thing, as it might motivate employees to work hard, be open and actively pursue opportunities, be nice to others and develop social networks. However, we suggest that this is not the case, especially if job insecurity persists for a long time. Our findings demonstrate the negative impact of chronic job insecurity on personality, especially on those traits that are critical for individuals to maintain stability in their lives and to develop as mature and healthy individuals.

Upcoming Publication by Dr Caitlin Vincent

Caitlin Vincent’s (a CPOW associate member from the University of Melbourne) monograph, Digital Scenography in Opera in the 21st Century, is forthcoming from Routledge in 2021.  The work explores current trends in the use of digital technology in opera production and the resulting disruptions to organisational management, creative collaboration, and cultural employment in the sector.

Event Success
Feminist Summer School 2020

The 2020 iteration of FSS was led by CPOW members Dr Meagan Tyler and Dr Kate Farhall, in conjunction with colleagues from GUSS (RMIT), Monash University, and The University of Melbourne. It was generously supported by CPOW and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia. Attendees came from all across Victoria, and included activists, teachers, and HDR students.

Gender inequality is a key area of research in CPOW, and this program has helped make connections across disciplines, institutions and NGOs, to emphasise the importance of feminist analysis to driving excellent research and practice, and ensuring that our research has relevance to, and impact in, the broader community. In particular, this program focused on developing attendees' knowledge the fundamental building blocks of feminist theory, which are so crucial to understanding women's inequality in the world of work, as well as at the local level of organisations. Overall, FSS was a real success that sparked conversations, generated engagement and knowledge translation, and extended CPOW’s public network. We hope to run it again in future years.

CPOW in the Media
Meagan Tyler on International Women’s Day


The current, corporate, business-focused IWD (international women’s day) branding skilfully avoids confrontations with the subject of neoliberal capitalist expansion has wrought on the lives of women across the world. Meagan Tyler and Kaye Quek discussed the historical, social and political aspects of IWD which bring out the questions of its purpose and function in the modern society. “International Women's Day – cause for celebration, or commiseration?,”
ABC Radio National, 03-Mar-2020. 

Lauren Rickards on Climate change being a threat to research itself

(Photo: phys.org

Assoc. Professor Lauren Rickards draw on her expertise in the article by Dominic Jarvis from the University of Queensland, titled "Climate change threatens research itself". The article has been published by Science X™ - a leading web-based science, research and technology news service on their phys.org website.

Sara Charlesworth on Working from home during the pandemic

Sara Charlesworth was cited in The Age last week on working from home in the era of COVID-19. She made the point that for many workers the lines between work and home had become even more blurred, making it hard to switch off from work. 

CPOW Contacts

Peter Nowotnik, CPOW Administrator (Tuesday to Thursday): [email protected]

Sara Charlesworth, CPOW Director:  [email protected]

Joining CPOW: If you are an RMIT researcher whose current research addresses sustainable, fair and decent work and you are interested in joining CPOW, here is the link to our membership application form.

CPOW addresses inequalities in the world of work to create sustainable, fair and decent work for all

CPOW is an RMIT University Centre located in the College of Business & Law.



RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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