05 December 2013

Retrenched workers leaving factory at duskUniversity of South Australia lecturer in Regional and Urban Planning Dr Johannes Pieters has been awarded the prestigious Peter Harrison Memorial Prize at this year’s State of Australian Cities Conference in Sydney, in recognition of his research into the suburban context of men’s adjustment post retrenchment - the impacts and opportunities that arise and how new jobs, the journey to work and the meaning of home play a role in adjusting to new circumstances. 

Selected as the Open Category Prize, Dr Pieters’ paper, based on his PhD research, explores the process of adjustment to retrenchment and considers that while large scale factory closures are commonly cast in the media as a community and personal disaster, the reality reveals a range of outcomes that are not always negative. 

“In many ways, for the generations of men who have worked in heavy industry settings such as the automotive industry, what they face when they are retrenched is coming to terms with a perceived broken promise - the collapse of the idea of a job for life,” Dr Pieters says. 

“The networks that relate to that notion connect across a person’s life - where they live and how they feel about home and the relationships that support their lives are important factors in how well they cope.” 

Dr Johannes Pieter presented with the Peter Harrison Memorial Prize for his researchDr Pieters says central to a successful transition is a good retrenchment package, tailored to the specific labour market situation facing workers in a region.

 “Losing a job you have held for a long time in an industry you believed to be a permanent fixture requires huge readjustment and unstressed time to plan and prepare for the next move, retraining, job searching, semi-retirement – so a good exit package gives people space to think about the next step. 

“The research I undertook over three years with people who took voluntary redundancy or were retrenched from the car industry in Adelaide in 2004 showed that adjustment occurs at multiple levels – in terms of personal identity and reinvention of the working self in a new context, adjustment to the loss of the psychological and financial  benefits of work and adjustments to a new balance between work and home. 

“The experience of the end of employment in one job can be devastating, however this does not rule out the opening up of new and positive opportunities and new relationships with home and work and sometimes if not often, workers feel that their overall circumstances have improved over time.” 

Dr Pieters says for many workers the relief of not being engaged in heavy and taxing physical work frees them up to spend more productive time with children and families, but for others new work can only be found a long way from home so there are new stresses in a longer commute. 

“What the research showed is that the impact of retrenchments or large scale industry shut downs cannot be viewed through a single or narrow lens,” he says. 

“The impacts are multi-dimensional, they can be positive and negative, and they are deeply entrenched in the suburban home and work experience. 

“But vital to positive outcomes is a starting point that allows workers the financial security and breathing space to make those adjustments.” 

The Peter Harrison Memorial Prizes are administered by The Fenner School of Environment and Society and ANU Endowment for Excellence, The Australian National University, in collaboration with the State of Australian Cities Research Network (SOACRN). The Prizes are awarded every two years, being selected from written, refereed papers accepted for presentation at the biennial State of Australian Cities Conference. 

The open prize is awarded to a paper by an established Australian researcher which is judged to make a distinctive contribution to knowledge and capacity for the sustainable development of Australian cities and regions. 

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office: 08 8302 0966 mobile: 0418 823 673 email: Michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au






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