15 August 2020

Monica Dux: “As a child, I remember thinking that, when it comes to wages, we have things upside down. Back then, I understood them as a being a bit like dessert: a reward you got for doing something that you wouldn’t otherwise do. Like eating brussels sprouts. So it seemed to me that people who did less pleasant jobs — jobs that are boring, dirty or repetitive — should be paid more. On the other hand, those who do interesting jobs should earn less. After all, no one gets ice-cream as a reward for eating cake. As I got older, I absorbed a different message. That high pay equates with high importance. Doctors save lives, which is important, so naturally they get lots of money. Futures traders also make squillions — so whatever futures might turn out to be, trading them is obviously vital. Cleaners, on the other hand, are paid very little. So what they do can’t be important. Or so the logic dictates. Warehouse workers and orderlies, night fillers and aged care workers: so many people who do vital work are poorly paid. Over the years, many such jobs have been made less secure, and their entitlements eroded. A relentless signal that society neither appreciates nor values what they do. I’m not the only one to notice that the pandemic could actually be an opportunity, a chance to reconsider all this. To fundamentally rethink the value of work, and how we reward those who do the difficult but necessary jobs. And I’ll give you a hint — I’m not talking about the futures traders.”