Many people will tell you that Kevin Andrews got the workplace relations portfolio because he’s the closest thing to a grouper the Liberal Party’s got – a conservative Catholic from Melbourne. So here’s an issue that should be right up his alley – work and family among Australian professionals. The people who are too damned bourgeois to complain.

Industrial relations debates only ever seem to coalesce around blue collar industries – or their modern-day equivalents.

The government likes talking about productivity. The fact that Australians are working harder and longer seems to be an aside in all of this.

Most of my friends who haven’t fallen through the cracks into call centres – or given up like me – are professionals who work ten to 12 hour days and weekends. (Their support staff have to work similar hours to keep up with them, but we’ll leave them out of it for now.)

Not all these professionals are particularly well remunerated. They may have benefits enshrined in contracts or enterprise agreements like rostered days off – but very few of them take their leave entitlements, let alone anything extra that might look slack.

Benefits might exist, but the take-up rate is barely noticeable. At the same time, everyone knows how big an issue the work/life/family balance is. Given the roles many of these people have in their organisations, they know that take-up of these sorts of benefits is an issue at all levels. They know that their own behaviour not only sets an example, but directly affects what the staff under them do.

Internal comms and HR can do all they like to promote what exists to help staff manage the balancing act, but unless people actually take up what’s on offer it doesn’t mean much. Senior staff are vital in influencing cultural change – and they don’t dare leave their desks. God knows what it might do to their careers.

We’re left with talk about family values, but nothing about families – how to find the time to work and start one, let alone spend time with them.

Peter Fray

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