Beware of flexibility ruses: Childcare reform is the real key for women | Women's Agenda

Beware of flexibility ruses: Childcare reform is the real key for women

Australian women are a cluey lot. We’re the most educated among our female peers in the OCED and we comprise well over 50% of the graduates from Australian universities. Millions of us run our own businesses and deftly manage our families and households. We’re articulate, resourceful and clever.

That’s why the government’s announcement of a plan to assist us negotiate flexible work hours, without enforceability and without any corresponding childcare reform, is an exercise in patronising politics.

Employers are prudent: they don’t want to lose their best staff, especially those who they’ve trained and invested in, and who possess valuable corporate knowledge and client relationships. The cost of attrition is enormously high in many professions, sometimes the annual salary of the departing employee when recruitment costs, training and opportunity costs are all factored in. It’s much cheaper for employers to keep staff after they have children.

This leads to common sense arrangements, such as starting work later on certain days in order to drop children at childcare or school, or leaving work earlier on other days to pick them up. Technology has a valuable role to play, with staff able to log on at home after the kids are in bed. As long as clients’ expectations are looked after, there is often no reason for employers to care how and where the work is done, as long as it’s done. That’s why these common sense arrangements are already occurring, without any intervention from the government.

This is not the time to be hitting businesses on the head with another regulatory stick. They have enough red tape to deal with. Instead of playing patronising politics, let’s address the real cause behind families struggling with part-time working arrangements: childcare.

Flexible, affordable and accessible childcare is the key to women being able to return to work after childbirth. Yet childcare costs have increased by almost triple the annual inflation rate over the last few years, while the demand for long day care places is higher than ever. And the lack of flexible childcare, such as after-school care and centres open beyond 6pm, means that many parents who want to and need to work longer hours or on certain days, can’t. Australians are increasingly becoming parents later in life, therefore grandparents are not necessarily around or capable of providing supplementary childcare. Many Australians are immigrants whose families live in distant lands. Professional childcare is the only way these families can return to work.

We know that as a nation we need more children in order to create enough taxpayers to support us in retirement – the Intergenerational Report makes for ominous reading on this issue! And we know we need to increase our productivity in order to improve our nation’s economic growth. While Australian women are the most educated in the OECD, their workplace participation rate is among the lowest. What a wasted investment! Flexible, affordable and accessible childcare is the key to unlocking our economy’s future prosperity.

Enough with the ruses and patronising distractions. If the political parties are serious about winning over Australian women at this year’s federal election, they must provide us with visionary childcare reform proposals. Our national interest is counting on it.

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