It's About Time
CHAPTER 1: Background
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.
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.
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.
CHAPTER 3: Legal protection for workers with family and carer responsibilities
That a federal Family Responsibilities and Carers' Rights Act be introduced to provide protection from discrimination for employees with family and carer responsibilities and a right to request flexible work arrangements.
That the Australian Government fund HREOC to establish a Family Responsibilities and Carers' Rights Unit to promote the principles of the new legislation, undertake educational and promotional activities, and contribute to policy and legislative development in the area of family responsibilities discrimination and carers' rights.
That the Family Responsibilities and Carers' Rights Act include a right for workers with family and carer responsibilities to request flexible work arrangements with a corresponding duty on employers to reasonably consider these requests. Refusal to reasonably consider a request for flexible work arrangements could then be the subject of a complaint to HREOC.
CHAPTER 4: Striking the balance in the workplace
That the Australian Government establish a national working hours framework which promotes flexibility and encourages workplaces to limit long hours working.
In developing this framework, the Australian Government should consider the following:
- a program to address long and unpredictable working hours;
- a program to encourage workplace level negotiations about working time arrangements;
- incentives to employers to offer flexible working arrangements which reflect employee needs across the life cycle; and
- initiatives aimed at changing the organisation of work so that it better meets the needs of employees with family and carer responsibilities.
That the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations develop industry specific resources in consultation with relevant employer and employee organisations in both blue and white collar industries to encourage the development of quality part time work.
That the Australian Government establish a grants program to assist businesses to increase the number of senior and quality jobs that are available part time. This initiative would supply matched funding to businesses and voluntary organisations for projects designed to embed quality part time work in their organisations.
That the Australian Government make a substantial commitment to a suite of measures to address the gender pay gap incorporating elements previously identified by HREOC.
Monitoring of women's wage and employment conditions
- That the Office of the Employment Advocate be required to monitor and publish annually information about the wages and employment conditions in Australian Workplace Agreements with a particular emphasis on gender differentiated data.
- That the Australian Fair Pay Commission undertake a program of monitoring and research with respect to the federal minimum wage and its impact on women workers. Particular attention should be paid to vulnerable groups of women employees with limited bargaining power, especially women with disability, young women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse and Indigenous backgrounds, and women working in less protected sectors of the labour market, such as outworkers.
That the Department of Education Science and Training, through the National Skills Shortages Strategy and in line with Shaping our Future: Australia's National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 2004 - 2010, fund the development of innovative projects to increase the number of girls and women in non-traditional occupations in areas of skill shortages. This should be done in cooperation with State and Territory training authorities.
That the Australian Government as a matter of priority introduce a national, government funded scheme of paid maternity leave of 14 weeks at the level of the federal minimum wage, as recommended by HREOC in A Time to Value: Proposal for a National Paid Maternity Leave Scheme (2002).
Following the introduction of a 14 week paid maternity leave scheme, the Australian Government should consider phasing in a more comprehensive scheme of paid parental leave consisting of:
- At a minimum, two weeks of paid paternity leave to be taken at the birth of the child; and
- A further 38 weeks of paid parental leave that is available to either parent.
Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard
- That the Personal/Carer's Leave Standard be increased from 10 days to 20 days per annum with 10 days to be non-accumulative.
- That the Australian Government consider introducing a new 12 month unpaid Carer's Leave Standard to be made available to employees who need to attend to the care of a seriously or terminally ill dependent. Like the Parental Leave Standard, this new Standard should be job protected and available to employees who have 12 months continuous service.
That HREOC develop Employer and Employee Guidelines in relation to workers with family and carer responsibilities, setting out rights and responsibilities, including a specific focus on small business.
That HREOC, in consultation with the Office of Workplace Services, be funded to develop comprehensive new resources and a major public awareness campaign focused on employers' and employees' rights and responsibilities under the new Family Responsibilities and Carers' Rights Act.
That the ACCI/BCA National Work and Family Awards include new categories on father-friendly policies and carer-friendly workplaces in order to showcase best practices in the workplace for supporting working fathers and working carers.
That an interdepartmental committee (including the Department of Families, Community Services, and Indigenous Affairs, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and HREOC) should be established to examine initiatives to assist in improving the family-friendly culture within workplaces, including ideas such as:
- developing more broadly recognised resources for employers focusing on the business case benefits of implementing family-friendly work practices;
- developing training packages about the benefits of family-friendly work practices for middle and senior management; and
- developing community awareness programs focused on limiting working hours and discouraging presenteeism through workplace campaigns such as a "daddy go home on time" day.
That HREOC, in consultation with the Office of the Employment Advocate, develop community resources to assist women with workplace negotiation and individual bargaining.
CHAPTER 5: Striking the balance in the family
That HREOC develop education materials for use in high schools around the country about sharing care and other unpaid work.
That the Australian Government fund a national multi-media community awareness campaign about workers with family/carer responsibilities, including the diversity of workers and families and with a targeted component for men with family/carer responsibilities.
That the Australian Government conduct an audit of Commonwealth, State and Territory programs in family and health services to assess how well they prepare families for sharing care. The audit should include an assessment of current mainstream antenatal and early parenting programs and programs designed for separated fathers in order to identify best practice methods of increasing the engagement of fathers in care work.
That the Australian Government fund the development of resources to assist newly partnered couples, and in particular prospective and new parents, to consider options and discuss arrangements for sharing care. These resources should be distributed through Family Relationship Centres and relevant community organisations.
CHAPTER 6: Government support: Welfare and tax
That Family Tax Benefit Part B be modified to support couple families to share paid work and care and Australia move towards a system of progressive individual income tax in which child benefits are provided on a universal basis.
That the child care tax rebate be modified to make it also available to parents as a fortnightly payment in the same way as the Family Tax Benefit Part B. This would require the Australian Tax Office (ATO)/Family Assistance Office (FAO) to develop a reliable calculator to enable parents to estimate their annual child care costs and make a claim either through the FAO for fortnightly payments or through the ATO for the rebate at the end of the financial year and to reduce the risk of overpayments. Where an individual elects to receive the payment as a tax rebate, it should be able to be claimed as part of an individual's tax returns for the financial year for which they have submitted that tax return.
That the Australian Government examine the option of moving towards a system of earned income tax credits for working families which would encompass current Family Tax Benefit payments and the child care tax rebate. Such an examination should consider the circumstances of families where parents are not in paid work which may be eligible for a set proportion of the full level of tax credit support and a premium should be considered for children with specific needs, in particular disability.
That in recognition of increased difficulties facing many sole parents and the large number of children in sole parent households living in poverty, the Australian Government should further review incentives and special assistance to enable sole parents to undertake paid work. Options for reform include the introduction of an in-work emergency fund to meet the cost of care related emergencies within the first 3 months of employment, a tax credit for sole parents entering the workforce for at least six months, and introducing a work related activity bonus on top of existing income support payments for sole parents with children aged under six years who engage in a work related activity.
That State and Territory governments (who have not already done so) examine the introduction of a Carer Card, similar to existing Seniors Cards, to provide for additional benefits for carers with the aim of increasing participation of carers in the community, providing some financial benefits for carers and improving the recognition of carers across the community, government and health and disability sectors.
That the Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) exemption be expanded for all employers who subsidise dependent care through the establishment of a child care service either on or off their own premises or through subsidies/allowances paid towards employees' care costs (such as vacation care allowances, frail aged day programs, respite care and in-home support for people with disability).
That the Australian Government extend the Superannuation Co-contribution Scheme to individuals who are not in the paid workforce because of caring responsibilities including caring for dependent adults or young children. An individual is to be eligible for government funded co-contributions if he or she is:
- eligible for Carer Payment;
- eligible for Parenting Payment; or
- in receipt of Carer Allowance in addition to another Government income support payment for people of working age such as Disability Support Pension/Newstart/Austudy/Abstudy.
That the Productivity Commission undertake an inquiry into the feasibility of establishing a superannuation-like framework whereby the unpaid work of carers can be recognised by the Australian Government.
CHAPTER 7: Government support: Early childhood and care
That the Australian, State and Territory governments finalise the National Agenda for Early Childhood as a matter of urgency to identify priorities for reform in early childhood education and care, and the responsibilities of all stakeholders in delivering these priorities.
That the Australian Government in cooperation with the States and Territories address concerns about quality in early childhood education and care services by initiating a review of the current quality assurance framework administered by the National Childcare Accreditation Council and establishing more transparent systems for quality assurance compliance. Such a review should consider standardising regulatory frameworks for service quality including the National Standards for child care, State and Territory frameworks and Quality Assurance frameworks.
That the Productivity Commission instigate an investigation into the Australian early childhood education and care workforce with the aim of addressing shortages in the workforce, recommending ways in which the training and qualification requirements for employees working in children's services might be improved across the board, addressing perceived inequities in employee wages and working conditions and improving the status of children's services professionals.
That State and Territory governments introduce a scheme of financial incentives for primary and secondary schools to introduce outside school hours activities with the aim of enabling all schools to be able to offer education and care to school aged children under the age of 16 during the hours of 8 am - 6 pm.
That Australian, State and Territory governments offer coordinated grant based funding for community based organisations, schools and children's services to establish innovative projects which provide age appropriate activities for high school aged children and young people before and after school and during school holidays.
That Australian early childhood education and care services be required to comply with Disability Standards for Education 2005 as a prerequisite for federal funding such as Child Care Benefit (CCB).
That the Australian Government with the cooperation of the States and Territories develop a framework for a national preschool year of education for all four year old children in Australia as a matter of urgency.
That the Australian Government with the cooperation of the States and Territories institute a comprehensive national review of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, grounded in a commitment to children's wellbeing, with the aim of:
- ensuring that all children can access quality programs regardless of their socio-economic circumstances, geographic location or abilities;
- establishing the extent of demand for ECEC services so as to provide a better planning framework for the establishment and accreditation of children's services;
- providing greater options for families for non-standard hours child care services;
- ensuring that the funding formula and mode of payment most effectively reflect the needs of children; and
- improving affordability for working parents.
CHAPTER 8: Government support: Care for adults and support for carers
That State and Territory governments, with cooperation with the Australian Government, develop state specific internet based resources (modelled on the NSW Government's Working Carers Support Gateway) in addition to an advisory service linked to existing infrastructure to inform working carers about their rights and provide greater information about support services and entitlements.
That the Australian Government and other identified agencies work to further implement the recommendations from the HREOC National Inquiry into Employment and Disability, WORKability II, to better enable carers with disability to secure and retain employment.
That the State and Territory governments develop additional specialist information resources for working carers with specific needs, in particular men, people with disability, grandparents, young carers, Indigenous carers and carers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
That in recognition of the workforce issues facing the formal aged care and disability service sectors and the expected increases in level of demand for these services, that the Australian and State and Territory governments prioritise strategies to improve recruitment, retention, training, working conditions and remuneration of employees in these sectors.
That the Australian Government in cooperation with the States and Territories undertake a review of specialist disability services to identify where gaps in service provision and delivery could be addressed so as to improve the balance between paid work and caring responsibilities for men and women workers with disability.
29 January, 2008