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Each quarter, our peer reviewed journal publishes up to six research- and practice-based articles on Australian youth. Find out more.

YSA September cover (thumbnail)

YSA September cover

September 2009 edition
VOLUME 28 NUMBER 3 2009
Feature articles

'Please sir, I want some more' Securing better pay and conditions for youth workers in Australia

by Michael Emslie

Youth Studies Australia, v.28, n.3, 2009, pp.32-40.

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Page 1

Recent youth sector workforce audits have revealed high staff turnover, critical skill shortages, service gaps and an increasing demand for youth services. Michael Emslie argues for better pay and conditions for youth workers as a way to address these concerns. Youth workers’ pay is compared with general wage growth and the wages of those undertaking similar work, and a case is made for pay parity to attract and keep competent workers in the youth sector. It is also argued that such changes would help achieve various government policies designed to avert and respond to the impacts of the current global financial crisis, and create a more socially inclusive society and sustainable youth sector.

Recent workforce audits have revealed significant skill shortages and increasing demand in the human services sector (Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) 2008; Australian Services Union (ASU) 2007). Simultaneously there has been a renewed interest in the professionalisation of youth work in various Australian states and territories.1 These developments have also occurred on the tail of a major global financial crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. With a new Labor government in office, we have heard much talk about the value of young people, and the Rudd administration’s commitment to building a strong youth sector. This context provides a timely opportunity to place the question of youth workers’ wages and conditions on the agenda. In this paper I argue for improving the pay and conditions of youth workers, and suggest why now is a good time to do so.

This question is important for a number of reasons. Clearly if we are serious about the professionalisation of a largely uncredentialed sector, decent wages and condition are critical (Perkin 1989). Likewise, if we are serious about addressing the gender pay gap in Australia then attention needs to be given to reasonable salaries and conditions for youth workers, most of whom are women. Moreover, such a project complements recent government initiatives designed to modernise the industrial relations system, stimulate the economy, and create a more socially inclusive society and sustainable community sector.


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