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It's About Time - Chapter 1

It's About Time

Chapter 1: Background

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Broadening the work and family debate
1.3 HREOC and the human rights principles supporting workers with family and carer responsibilities
1.4 Background and methodology
1.5 Research and data
1.6 Conclusion

1.1 Introduction

The topic of balancing paid work and care, or as it is also called, the "work and family debate" or "work/life balance", has been the subject of much community discussion in recent years. As a contribution to this debate, in June 2005 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) released the discussion paper Striking the Balance: Women, men, work and family1 (Striking the Balance discussion paper). Building on HREOC's work on sex discrimination and gender equality in employment,2 the Striking the Balance discussion paper examines the way in which Australian men and women balance their paid work and family and carer responsibilities.

This final paper on women, men, work and family makes the case for a new approach to balancing paid work and care in Australia.3 It outlines a life cycle approach to managing paid work and care demands across the life course. It also proposes a series of changes to legislation, workplace policy and practice and government policy and programs in line with a "shared work - valued care" approach (this approach is discussed further in Chapter 2).

This chapter outlines the objective of the women, men, work and family project, the human rights principles relevant to workers with family and carer responsibilities, the background and methodology to the project and the gaps in available data.

1.2 Broadening the work and family debate

While preparing the Striking the Balance discussion paper, HREOC was repeatedly told of the struggles that both men and women experience in managing their competing paid work and family and carer responsibilities. However, balancing paid work and family/carer responsibilities is commonly considered a women's issue that relates only to paid employment. The women, men, work and family project aims to broaden the debate in three ways.

First, this project considers the roles of both men and women as workers and carers. A growing community interest in men's role in family life is evident with increasing numbers of men advocating better acknowledgement of and support for men's caring roles, particularly parenting. Alongside this development is a growing international recognition of the role of men and boys in working toward gender equality.4 In line with these changes, a major aim of the women, men, work and family project is to engage men in paid work and care debates.

Second, the women, men, work and family project aims to broaden the concept of family responsibilities to encompass all forms of caring, not only child care, but also care for older people and people with disability requiring care. The project also acknowledges the complexity of worker/carer relationships: for example, many people in paid employment may also need care and older people or people with disability may also be carers.

Third, the women, men, work and family project aims to highlight the relationship between paid and unpaid work. Many paid work and care discussions focus on paid work without examining its necessary reliance on unpaid work. The project focuses particularly on the gendered nature of unpaid work, that is, women's continuing disproportionate responsibility for tasks such as child care, elder care,5 housework and household management and the impact that this has on women's and men's paid work opportunities.6

When these three themes are included in a policy discussion of workers with family and carer responsibilities the debate moves beyond considerations such as the responsibility of workplaces to provide flexibility, or the role of government in regulating workplaces and assisting families. It becomes a question of how well Australian society values the essential work of care and, as evident through HREOC's consultations, a question of time. It also indicates that a genuine response to reconciling paid work and care must integrate elements of government policies and programs, workplace structures and cultures, legislative provisions and family decision-making. Responsibility for these areas is shared between all of the social partners engaged in the issue, including governments, employers, industry leaders, unions, community organisations, service providers and individuals and their families.

1.3 HREOC and the human rights principles supporting workers with family and carer responsibilities

HREOC is Australia's independent national human rights institution.7 It has a variety of functions which include promoting an understanding and acceptance of human rights in Australia including equality between men and women and equality for employees with family/carer responsibilities.8

Federal discrimination laws

At a federal level, the government has enacted laws that provide protections for workers with family and carer responsibilities. These federal discrimination laws include the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (Sex Discrimination Act) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (Disability Discrimination Act).

The Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, potential pregnancy, or to sexually harass another person, in many areas of public life, such as employment and education.

The Sex Discrimination Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the ground of their family responsibilities by dismissing them from employment. Dismissal can include what is termed "constructive dismissal", where the employee is not formally dismissed but the employer's actions give the employee no choice but to leave their employment. Protection against discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities is more limited than the other grounds under the Sex Discrimination Act. A key focus of the women, men, work and family project is an examination of how the Sex Discrimination Act operates to assist Australian families to balance paid work and care and whether law reform may be necessary.

The Disability Discrimination Act provides protection against discrimination for workers with disability and workers who are "associates" of people with disability. The term "associate" is defined in the Disability Discrimination Act to include, inter alia, a carer.9 The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the ground of the disability of that person's associates in certain defined areas of public life, including employment.10

International human rights obligations

In addition to these domestic laws, the Australian government has agreed to be bound by a number of international human rights treaties which protect workers with family and carer responsibilities.

The following human rights treaties are most relevant to this project.

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),11 which requires the Australian Government to "take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in ... employment"12 and to "encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities".13
  • Convention (No 156) Concerning Equal Opportunities and Equal Treatment for Men and Women Workers: Workers with Family Responsibilities (ILO 156),14 which protects workers with family and carer responsibilities15 by requiring the Australian Government to take account of the needs of workers with family responsibilities in terms and conditions of employment;16 and ensure that workers are not terminated on the basis of their family responsibilities.17
  • Convention (No 111) Concerning Discrimination in respect of Employment and Occupation (ILO 111), 18 which prohibits discrimination in employment.

In addition, there are number of human rights treaties which require Australia to protect and assist the family including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)19 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).20 The interdependency of the rights of the child on the rights of the parents is recognised by the Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC)21 which requires Australia to assist both parents in the performance of their common responsibilities. Recent developments in international human rights law also recognise the importance of recognising and protecting the rights of people with disability and older people.

Certain of these international human rights obligations provide, in part, the constitutional basis for the federal discrimination laws discussed above.22

These human rights principles underpin this paper. The relevance of these human rights treaties to the rights of workers with family and carer responsibilities is discussed further in Chapter 3.

1.4 Background and methodology

The women, men, work and family project - which has become known by many as "Striking the Balance" - was announced in February 2005. A discussion paper was released in June 2005. Shortly after the project was announced the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services resolved to conduct an Inquiry into Balancing Work and Family. Some of HREOC's findings and recommendations dovetail with those contained in the Report of the House of Representatives Inquiry into Balancing Work and Family, which was released when this paper was being finalised.23 The House of Representatives Inquiry and the women, men, work and family project both attracted significant interest from the media and the public, which has in turn supported the development of this document.

The Striking the Balance discussion paper reviewed a wide range of quantitative and qualitative data on paid and unpaid work, with a particular focus on labour market and time use statistics. The paper canvassed the available data on carer arrangements, including for children, people with disability and elder care. The Striking the Balance discussion paper also brought together data on productivity, population ageing, fertility, social capital, workplace initiatives, and attitudinal research. The final chapter of the Striking the Balance discussion paper presented a range of goals and possible options for change in the areas of legislation, social policy, workplace culture and community attitudes.

The Striking the Balance discussion paper was also informed by the advice and review of three advisory panels (academic, employment and community) who convened for a roundtable and provided valuable advice throughout its development. As with the Striking the Balance discussion paper, the advisory panels offered substantial guidance, advice and review on the development of this final paper. HREOC greatly appreciates the honorary assistance that our advisory panels have provided throughout this project. A list of the advisory panels consulted for this final paper is provided at p XR.

Written submissions were invited in response to the questions posed in the Striking the Balance discussion paper. One hundred and eighty one submissions were received from individuals and groups which included employers, employer groups, unions, women's and men's community groups, academics, legal groups, and State, Territory and federal Governments and agencies. A list of submissions is provided at pp XR.

A total of 44 consultations and focus groups were held around Australia with employers, employer groups, unions, men's and women's community groups and interested individuals.24 Of the 28 consultations that were conducted, two were held in regional and rural areas while the remainder covered each State and Territory capital city. Sixteen focus groups were conducted and these included public and private employers, white and blue collar employees, mothers and fathers, a father's group and primary school aged children. A list of the consultations is provided at p XR.

In addition, HREOC spoke to a range of individuals and organisations throughout the project and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner received feedback via many public forums and speaking engagements throughout the course of 2005 and early 2006. While the full extent of this input is not documented in this paper, it has contributed significantly to this final paper and HREOC is grateful to all of those who provided these contributions.

1.5 Research and data

HREOC has identified a number of gaps in currently available research in the broad area of paid work and family and carer responsibilities.

The priority areas that HREOC has identified are in relation to unpaid work, caring experiences across the life course, and gender differences in wage changes and employment conditions over time. HREOC has also identified a range of other areas where a stronger evidence base is needed in order to measure progress and inform future policy development. These areas are discussed in the chapters that follow.25

There is a clear need for regular time use surveys in order to measure changes in unpaid and paid work over time and to inform policy development on paid work and family and carer responsibilities. While another Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) time use survey is planned for release in the second half of 2007, it has been nine years since the last survey.26

Comparable data on the care arrangements for children, older people and people with disability is also lacking. While a number of surveys measure different types of care they do not facilitate a comprehensive measurement of family and carer responsibilities across the life course. As overlap between these types of caring are expected to increase in future, information on this trend will be even more necessary.27

A set of questions on experiences of child care, elder care and care for people with disability that could be incorporated into an existing survey, or alternatively a new survey, would address this research gap. Development of these survey questions would need to include consultation with a variety of community stakeholders and policy makers. In particular, a standard definition of care that captures the full extent of care experiences is needed, as is data about the range of family types. Survey questions should also include information on the employment experiences of carers.

Research carried out for HREOC has identified the need for the collection of comprehensive and detailed indicators of employment status that are comparable across time.28 Measuring gender differences in wages and employment conditions is particularly important given the new national workplace relations regulatory framework, which covers approximately 85 per cent of employees.29

RECOMMENDATION 1:

That the Australian Bureau of Statistics be funded to produce a full national time use survey at regular five-yearly intervals to help inform and measure progress towards gender equality in paid and unpaid work. 

RECOMMENDATION 2: 

That the Australian Bureau of Statistics be funded to develop a set of questions on experiences of child care, elder care and care for people with disability for distribution either in appropriate regular national surveys of households, or a new specialist survey, in order to collect comparable data on the range of informal and formal care provided within Australia.

RECOMMENDATION 3:

That the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations establish a national workplace relations survey to be carried out and published annually to monitor gender differences in changes in wages and employment conditions within the new workplace relations regulatory framework. This survey should be developed in consultation with key stakeholders including State and Territory governments, employers and unions and collect data about the diverse range of employees and employers including by disability, ethnicity and Indigenous status. 

1.6 Conclusion

The Striking the Balance discussion paper took a very broad approach to the topic of paid work and care, on the assumption that consultations would direct the focus of the final paper to specific areas of major concern. However, it became clear during consultations that community concern encompasses the entire spectrum of issues. Significant attention was directed towards ensuring that HREOC took a broad focus consistent with the directions of the discussion paper. HREOC was commonly urged to address how our society values care and how as a society we value and manage our time resources.

Valuing care and easing time pressures and conflicts means more than ensuring flexible, family-friendly workplaces. While a balance between paid work and care is an essential component of a society that values care, it is not enough in itself. Valuing care and time requires tackling the inequality that sets the parameters for how we arrange our paid and unpaid work. We also need to refocus national attention on care and its role in supporting our society and broadening our concerns about traditional national interest aims such as prosperity and productivity to include the work of care as integral to our national progress.

Incorporating the work of caring across the life cycle into our national interest agenda means not only properly valuing this work but attending to the issue of gender equality. Balancing paid work and family/carer responsibilities cannot be achieved without considering the whole spectrum of paid and unpaid work that men and women undertake and the way this work is spread between them. This consideration should not be viewed as working against the achievement of a prosperous and productive economy. Rather, the goal of gender equality in both paid and unpaid work should be considered as a necessary pre-condition of a well functioning society.30

Gender equality and balancing paid work and care are important goals in their own right. Australia is bound by a number of international human rights instruments that require measures to promote shared responsibility for caring and domestic responsibilities, including CEDAW and ILO 156, as discussed above.31 These obligations recognise that family responsibilities are not simply a matter of individual choice but a load experienced disproportionately by women, an experience that is "one of the most important reasons for their continuing inequality in employment and occupation".32

This paper makes the case for a new approach to balancing paid work and care based around a holistic principle of shared work - valued care. Helping families balance their competing demands and providing them with the resources to ensure their wellbeing will not be achieved by treating particular issues in isolation. Addressing concern about child care, ensuring workplaces are family-friendly or better tailoring welfare and taxation policy towards gender equality would each assist progress towards paid work and care balance, and each issue is complex and important in its own right. However, the message from the consultations was that Australia needs to take a different conceptual approach, one that deals with these issues urgently and as a whole. A society that values care will not be achieved as a by-product of economic growth and productivity. Rather, valuing care and time are ends in themselves and should be included in national interest priorities along with economic goals. This issue is discussed further in the following chapter.

It is important to note at the outset that while HREOC advocates a holistic approach to paid work and family and carer responsibilities, a comprehensive coverage of everything that impacts on this area would be impossible for a single paper. Instead, this paper sketches a new framework for managing paid work and family/carer responsibilities across the life cycle along with a series of recommendations in priority areas to support the implementation of this framework.


Footnotes

[1] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Striking the Balance: Women, men, work and family Discussion paper HREOC Sydney 2005 (Striking the Balance discussion paper).

[2] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission A Time to Value: Proposal for a national paid maternity leave scheme HREOC Sydney 2002 and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Pregnant and Productive: It's a right not a privilege to work while pregnant Report of the National Pregnancy and Work Inquiry HREOC Sydney 1999.

[3] In this paper the terms "balancing paid work and care", "family and carer responsibilities" and "family/carer responsibilities" (as an abbreviation) will be used to encompass the full range of unpaid/informal care responsibilities that families and workers undertake across the life course. While HREOC used the term "paid work and family responsibilities" throughout the Striking the Balance discussion paper in this same inclusive sense, it is clear from HREOC's consultations with the public that "family responsibilities" are often assumed to refer exclusively to the care of children. Similarly, the term "carer responsibilities" is often understood as referring only to the care of older people or people with disability. For clarity, HREOC has opted to use both terms together in this paper. Where the paper refers to particular types of family/care work in the text it will be specified as such (e.g. as "parenting" or "caring for people with disability"). The term "carer" is used to refer to a person providing unpaid care to an older family member or someone with an illness or disability.

[4] United Nations Commission on the Status of Women The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality: Agreed Conclusions Forty-eight session 1-12 March 2004, Advanced unedited version, as adopted 12 March 2004 http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw48/ac-men-auv.pdf

[5] The term "elder care" is used in this paper to refer to unpaid informal care of older people requiring care. The term "aged care" is used to refer to paid formal care of older people requiring care.

[6] See Striking the Balance discussion paper, in particular pp 25-47.

[7] HREOC is an independent statutory authority established under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (HREOC Act).

[8] Section 11(1)(g) of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 (Cth).

[9] Section 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).

[10] Section 15 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).

[11] Opened for signature 18 December 1979, 1249 UNTS 13 (entered into force 3 September 1981), ratified by Australia 28 July 1983. The Convention is set out in the Schedule to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

[12] Article 11(1).

[13] Article 11(2)(c).

[14] Opened for signature 23 June 1981, 1331 UNTS 295 (entered into force 11 August 1983), ratified by Australia 30 March 1990.

[15] Some researchers have argued that a number of additional international Conventions, in particular ILO Conventions 87 and 98 (on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining), are integral to protecting Australian employees with family responsibilities because of the role that employee organisations and collective bargaining arrangements have historically played in providing such protections: see, for example, Barbara Pocock Jobs, Care and Justice: A fair work regime for Australia

Clare Burton Memorial Lecture Sydney 8 November 2006, p 18.

[16] Article 4(b).

[17] Article 8.

[18] Opened for signature 25 June 1958, 362 UNTS 31 (entered into force 15 June 1960), ratified by Australia 15 June 1973, entered into force for Australia 15 June 1974.

[19] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976), ratified by Australia 13 August 1980, entered into force in Australia 13 November 1980.

[20] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened for signature December 1966, 999UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976), ratified by Australia 10 December 1975, entered into force for Australia 10 March 1976.

[21]Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature on 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS3 (entered into force 2 September 1990), ratified by Australia 17 December 1990, entered into force for Australia 16 January 1991.

[22] See also Chapter 3 (section 3.2).

[23] House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services Balancing Work and Family Report of the inquiry into balancing work and family Commonwealth of Australia Canberra December 2006. Some of the report's findings are referred to where relevant throughout this paper.

[24] Not all of these consultations and focus groups were recorded; some were scribed. Where quotes that appear in this paper were hand scribed only they are as close as possible to the actual words spoken.

[25] The need for greater Australia to develop a more comprehensive collection of sex-segregated data, in particular in relation to ethnicity and disability, was raised by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at its Thirty-fourth session in January 2006: Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination ofDiscrimination against Women: Australia Held at Headquarters, New York on Monday 30 January 2006, p 3. See also discussion in Chapter 5 (section 5.8) and Chapter 8 (section 8.4).

[26] The 2006 ABS Time Use Survey was in the field at the time of writing and was planned for release in September 2007. See also Striking the Balance discussion paper, p 5.

[27] See discussion in Chapter 4 (section 4.9) and Chapter 8 (section 8.2 and section 8.4). See also the mix of different statistics used to paint the picture of these care experiences in Striking the Balance discussion paper pp 25-38 and pp 39-47.

[28] See Alison Preston, Therese Jefferson and Richard Seymour for WiSER - Women in Social & Economic Research Women's Pay and Conditions in an Era of Changing Workplace Regulations: Towards a "Women's Employment Status Key Indicators" (WESKI) database Curtin University of Technology September 2006, p xiv and pp 4-20. This research need is also recognised by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services Balancing Work and Family Report of the inquiry into balancing work and family Commonwealth of Australia Canberra December 2006, in particular pp 150-155 and their Recommendation 6.

[29] See Alison Preston, Therese Jefferson and Richard Seymour for WiSER - Women in Social & Economic Research Women's Pay and Conditions in an Era of Changing Workplace Regulations: Towards a "Women's Employment Status Key Indicators" (WESKI) database Curtin University of Technology September 2006, p xiv. See also further discussion in Chapter 4 (section 4.6).

[30] This point is discussed further in Chapter 2.

[31] See also discussion in Chapter 3 (section 3.2).

[32] International Labour Organization General Survey: Workers with family responsibilities, International Labour Conference 80th Session 1993, Report III, Part 4B, 1993, [25].

January 29, 2008

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