Working paper

Home-based working in Australia: issues and evidence

URP Working Paper No. 1
Households Household finance Gender differences Labour force Family dynamics Gender gap Home-based work Australia
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This paper addresses the issue of home-based production of exchange values. Social science has traditionally separated the two worlds of 'home' and 'work'. The domestic labour debates brought recognition of the continued existence of work in the home, but under relationships of domestic labour and use value production, rather than capitalism and exchange value production. However, many people continue to be engaged in the production of exchange values in the home: seven per cent of the Australian paid labour force in 1981. A wide range of social relationships under which production of exchange values in the home takes place, from capitalist wage labour to independent entrepreneur, is examined and it is argued that the internal relationships of the 'family firm', relationships of gender and kin, need more thorough analysis. While the rules under which production for exchange in the home is organised may cover the whole spectrum of production relationships, the home is also the location for the production of use values under domestic labour. This physical proximity of the two labour processes has different implications for men and women. For men, the home is a retreat from the stress of commuting and office or factory work; a place for consumption, leisure and emotional support. For women, however, the home is the location of their domestic labour. This has two major consequences for women: first, they supply their home-based labour power under different constraints than men; and secondly, they have to constantly juggle two sets of responsibilities, creating stress and straining their family relationships. This discussion sets the context for analysis of data from the 1981 census, revealing the extent and nature of home-based work in Australia. Exchange value production in the home is not confined to the traditional picture of the clothing industry outworker, indeed these are a minority of home-based workers, notwithstanding that they may be among the most exploited. Many other types of work, including agriculture, construction,' business services and clerical work, are carried out in the home. This confirms the importance of petty commodity production and the family firm in the range of home-based production. The situation of couples working in the construction and business services industries is examined in greater detail. Both sectors, the former more 'traditional' and the latter more 'modern', exhibit a strong sexual division of labour, with men engaged in the 'core' production and managerial roles, and women largely engaged in the 'servicing' tasks of clerical labour. By way of contrast, the situation of home-based workers in the textile, clothing and footwear industries is looked at, and the typical picture of a labour force of predominantly female migrant labour, restricted in their employment opportunities by language barriers and domestic responsibilities emerges. Data on incomes support the hypothesis that these women earn less than their factory-based counterparts.

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