Essential workers paying two-thirds of their income on rent

Soaring rents across the country are hitting essential workers hard, with a new report finding they are paying two-thirds of their income on rent.

The Everybody’s Home Priced Out report found that the rental crisis has seen essential workers lose an average of six hours from their weekly income to rent increases, which equates to an average of 37 days each year. 

Workers in aged care, child care, hospitality, postal, meat packing and freight are among the hardest hit, spending most of their wage on rent. 

Those on the lowest awards are left with about $20 a day after paying rent, based on the capital city average. 

Everybody’s Home spokesperson Maiy Azize said essential workers are the backbone of communities, yet they are being priced out of them with unsustainable rent rises. 

“More and more essential workers are being pushed into serious rental stress,” Ms Azize said.

“Virtually no region in Australia is affordable for our aged care workers, early childhood carers, cleaners, nurses and many other essential workers we rely on.”

The report found that hospitality workers were paying the largest portion of their income on rent and struggling the most.

The average hospitality worker earns $813 per week ($710 net), yet is forced to pay $489 on weekly rent – or 69 per cent of their net income.

Childcare workers were also battling, paying 68 per cent of their income on rent, along with meatpackers (69 per cent) and aged care workers (65 per cent).

The numbers are even worse for essential workers based in the city, with hospitality workers and meat packers paying 80 per cent in a major city, followed by childcare workers (79 per cent) and aged care workers (77 per cent).

The report found hospitality workers were forced to work 41 days extra per year to fund the increased cost of rent, while aged care workers clocked up an extra 39 days.

Benetas Chief Executive Officer Sandra Hills OAM said the situation is becoming incredibly difficult for their workers across their aged care facilities in Victoria.

“At the moment, we have a number of employees wanting to work at our St Laurence Court Eaglehawk home in Bendigo but they are finding it extremely difficult to find affordable places to rent, or are having to commute every day from Melbourne,” Ms Hills said. 

“Many of our carers want to work part-time due to other commitments such as caring for family members or raising children. 

“But with the challenges of rental affordability, particularly in regional areas, we are struggling to attract and keep really good carers in our aged care homes.”

The conditions for essential workers become even more extreme in Sydney where hospitality workers, meat packers, aged care workers and child care workers are paying up to 91 per cent of their income on rent.

Even the most well-paid essential workers, teachers and firefighters, were still paying 66 per cent of their income on rent in Sydney, the report found.

Melbourne was slightly better, but workers were still found to be paying up to 72 per cent of their income on rent.

Brisbane was as high as 74 per cent, Perth was up to 72 per cent, Adelaide was 57 per cent, Tasmania was 67 per cent, the Northern Territory 64 per cent and the ACT was higher again at 79 per cent.

Ms Azize said essential workers are used to dealing with crises, but this is one that calls for serious action from the Federal Government. 

“Our tax system is rigged against renters, driving up the cost of rent for millions of Australians,” she said.

“And on top of that, Australia has a huge shortfall of social homes for people who can’t afford rent.

She said the Federal Government must start building 25,000 social homes every year to end the shortfall. 

“That will help workers in severe rental stress, and free up affordable rentals for everyone else,” she said.

“The government can fund those social homes by winding back handouts for investors and landlords.”

CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith said housing costs are the razor-sharp point of a cost-of-living spear being driven into Australian workers.

“We’ve made it abundantly clear to the Federal Government that more ambition is needed on building social housing,” Mr Smith said.

“The CFMEU won’t stop fighting on social housing. 

“This is a top-line issue for our members.

Mr Smith said Australia is on the precipice of a social housing cliff with more and more workers teetering on the edge.

“We are at a pivotal moment,” he said.

“This is an incredible opportunity to address a massive crisis while also creating thousands of good jobs which help the country through commitments on training, safety and procurement.”

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a freelance journalist specialising in finance and real estate.