The workplace rights of arts workers can no longer be ignored

The centre’s role will be a mix of regulation, policy and provision of resources.


It will be able to set standards around minimum inclusions in grant processes – such as compliance with the [email protected] recommendations. The centre will also act as a referral agency to organisations such as Fair Work Australia and Comcare. Whether it will function as an investigative or policing body remains to be seen.

Its overarching responsibility will be to establish a connection between the arts and issues of pay, safety and welfare.

The development of safe workplaces relies, first and foremost, on the provision of fair and equitable wages. If artists can’t survive financially, they can’t thrive.

The Australia Council has highlighted the importance of fair pay. The council has a dedicated web page on artist payments and requires funding applicants to meet the minimum rates of pay under relevant industry standards.

The challenge has been a lack of consistent industrial benchmarks establishing these standards and the absence of consequences for organisations that choose to ignore them. Part of the difficulty also stems from the size and structure of many arts organisations, which often lack designated human resources specialists. This leaves independent contractors and casual workers with little formal recourse against unfair working conditions.

Tony Burke, who is minister for both arts and workplace relations, speaking at the launch of the policy on Monday.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Efforts to promote artist safety and welfare also already exist in Australian cultural policy. Arts South Australia has incorporated “respectful behaviours” guidelines into their funding agreements. But, like fair pay, these kinds of policies can be vague and often little more than aspirational in practice.

There is an opportunity for the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces to establish strong standards, set expectations within the sector and help to hold arts organisations to account.

Burke told Triple J’s Hack the centre will develop codes of conduct, and if organisations aren’t “keeping up to date” with these codes around workplace bullying and harassment, they will not be able to “come knocking on the door for government funding”.

The centre will also importantly function as a point of contact and referral for arts workers who have nowhere else to go for support.


Other areas where the centre can offer substantive value are in the improvement of workplace standards and the communication of revised industrial frameworks and awards. However, the centre’s ability to build new cultures across the dispersed workforce of freelancers, sole traders and small to medium enterprises will remain a significant challenge.

Arts workers recognise the need for change, but they need access to specialist advice to achieve it.

Signs of optimism

There has been some unease about the increased role of arts bureaucracy within the new cultural policy. The decision to create three new administrative entities in addition to the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces – all with significant budgets – highlights concerns institutions are once again being prioritised over individual artists.

In the case of the centre, the key will be whether the body can actually address the art sector’s unstable and inequitable workplace conditions through its policies and regulations.

As a sign of optimism, this model isn’t without precedent. The Swedish arts sector has seen significant success using a similar top-down institutional approach to address cultural workforce issues, particularly around gender inequality.

Since 2006, Sweden has implemented multiple policies leveraging access to funding and quotas to increase women’s representation in the arts. In 2011, the Swedish Arts Council even launched a dedicated agency to help support projects promoting gender equality in music.


Ultimately, what the centre achieves will be shaped by the decision-makers within it. The centre’s staff must represent Australia’s diverse creative community and clearly understand how and why things must change. As Jo Caust notes, detail and execution are critical. Cultural policy is more than words, it’s what happens after that makes the difference.

As columnist Sean Kelly suggests, Revive’s true measure of success will be the health of arts workplaces: “Burke will be judged on whether the arts again becomes a field that people want to work in – a field in which workers are respected and paid properly for their work”.

The Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces will play a crucial role in determining that success.

Kim Goodwin, Lecturer, The University of Melbourne and Caitlin Vincent, Lecturer in Creative Industries, The University of Melbourne

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