Forget women’s workforce participation for a moment; let’s talk men’s household participation.
In Australia, women participate significantly more in the home, spending an average 311 minutes a day on unpaid work, compared with 172 minutes for men.
The problem is exacerbated after a couple has children, with new mothers seeing their paid working hours reduced, while new fathers start spending more time in paid work. From there, habits get entrenched so that even once a mother returns to full-time work she continues to take on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities at home.
Meanwhile, Australia has committed to reducing the gender gap in workforce participation by 25% by 2025. A difficult task if we continue to split unpaid work so unevenly, especially if we expect women to get some sleep.
So it’s little wonder then that an idea outlined by the Work + Family Policy Roundtable in its Work Care & Family Policies Election Benchmarks report has captured plenty of attention today.
That idea is to strengthen our National Employment Standards and modern awards system by putting a 38-hour weekly cap on fulltime work, with the option for additional (but reasonable) levels of paid overtime.
The Roundtable, based on 34 researchers and academics with expertise on work, care and family, claim this would help limit the hours men are spending at work to in turn be able to spend more at home.
Currently, 46% of all female employees are working part time, with more than half of those employed on a casual basis – meaning they’re lacking in security and predictability. The idea of a capped working week could, in theory, see both paid and unpaid work better distributed between the genders.
This was just one idea among a very long list of bold proposals for shifting the status quo on our system of care and work.
The group claims Australia is moving backwards on work and family issues, with governments focused more on balancing budgets than “balancing lives”.
It says that despite that ambitious goal to reduce the workforce participation gap, we have not yet come up with a solid plans for who will care for children, the aged and those with disabilities.
With a Federal Election just weeks away, the group’s offered a number of benchmarks for assessing election proposals for improving work, care and family outcomes, based on workshops held in March 2014 and November 2015.
Its eight areas of particular importance for the 2016 election include:
- An accessible, affordable, quality early childhood education and care system for all children
- Improved paid parental leave
- Job security, flexibility and working time
- Gender pay equity
- Workforce participation and the tax/transfer system
- Superannuation and retirement savings
- Work and care for an aging Australia
- Institutional support and leadership for work and care
Other recommendations by the group include:
- Two days a week (minimum) of subsidized high quality early childcare education for children, regardless of whether their parents are working
- A better transition from paid parental leave to early childhood education
- Extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks in the short term, and eventually to 52 weeks of shared/paid leave
- Increasing paid annual and sick leave to casuals on a pro-rata basis
- Restricting maximum working hours to 38 hours a week, except with mutual agreement for overtime
- Increasing the opportunity for employees to work flexibility by ensuring it’s available regardless of caring responsibilities, and removing the 12-month service requirement
- Introduce new minimum standards under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, and require all reporting organisations to meet these standards
- Tax reform to ensure the system is progressive, and generates enough revenue to support high-quality public services without the need for excessive means-testing.
- Reduce superannuation tax benefits that favour higher income earners (who are usually men)
See the full report here.