Both major parties’ election promises fall short of providing families with the support they need to balance the demands of work and care, according to a new scorecard developed by 31 academics from 18 Australian universities.
The Australian Work + Family Policy Roundtable’s scorecard compares Labor and Coalition policies to research-based recommendations developed and released by the Work and Family Policy Roundtable.
“We identify five priority policy themes that prioritise respect, work, care, and equality in public life: decent job; high-quality care infrastructure and a sustainable care workforce; gender pay equality; safe and respectful workplaces; and institutional support for decent work and decent care, the report says.
“According to the W+FPR, current policy settings do not provide adequate support for families to work and care in ways that are appropriate for their circumstances.”
Here’s how the policies compare:
Decent work (Job security)
Workers may manage their work and care duties with decent work that provides job stability, consistent working time arrangements, paid leave, and a living salary. However, many people struggle to find stable, reliable, and well-paid jobs, particularly those who work part-time or temporarily.
According to the study, Labor has committed to broadening the scope of the Fair Work Act beyond employees to include “employee-like” forms of work, which will extend employment minimums, including wages, to some gig and “self-employed” workers.
Women’s economic security depends on the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and minimum award wages than men’s. While Labor, unlike the Coalition, supports an increase in the NMW, the purchasing power of award wages in feminised sectors remains a critical issue.
Labor has committed to 10 days of paid domestic violence (DV) leave in the National Employment Standards (NES) but not to the extension of paid DV or other forms of paid leave to those, not permanent employees as recommended by the W+FPR.
Neither major party has committed to addressing Australia’s poor social protection safety net, including raising the low rate of Job Seekers. The Coalition has made no election announcements about decent work and job security.
The W+FPR advises that care workers be paid professional rates that reflect their abilities and encourage workforce sustainability.
Labour will pay the current work value case resolution before the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for a $5 per hour wage rise for frontline aged care employees. Within the FWC, Labor will establish Care and Community Sector and Pay Equity Expert Panels to give knowledge on female pay equity and care sector work. On the other hand, Labor has not committed to guaranteeing that publicly financed care services directly employ care workers, as the W+FPR recommends.
The Coalition has stated that it will “honour” the FWC’s judgement in the elderly care work value case but has made no statements that will address fundamental flaws in the IR system for care workers, the report states.
Gender pay equality
Gender pay equality is critical for caregivers who work. Nonetheless, equal pay laws and institutions in Australia have failed to address the country’s persistent gender pay gap.
The report states that Labor’s policy is consistent with W+FPR recommendations that equal remuneration is made an explicit goal of the Fair Work Act and that an equal remuneration principle is established. Labor has also committed to prohibiting pay secrecy clauses and requiring companies with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap publicly.
The Coalition has committed additional resources to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency but has made no specific commitments on gender pay equality.
Paid parental leave
Both major parties oppose a sufficient and effective national paid parental leave system. The Roundtable recommends 26 weeks shared by both parents, plus an additional six weeks available to fathers and partners on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, plus superannuation.
Neither major party supports paying superannuation on paid parental leave, a significant oversight that reduces women’s retirement income.
“The failure of both major parties to support superannuation payments on PPL is a major oversight that jeopardises women’s economic security and retirement income,” the report states.
The Coalition has redesigned the national parental leave scheme to combine 18 weeks of paid leave (for the primary caregiver) with two weeks of paid leave for fathers and partners.
Childcare and early education (ECEC)
Early Childhood Education and Care that is affordable, accessible, and of high quality is work, care, and family priority. Both major parties share the goal of increasing female labour-force participation. However, access to affordable ECEC services remains a barrier for many families. Expensive childcare is a major source of financial stress and impedes increasing women’s participation in paid work.
The W+FPR advocates for investment in a national system of publicly funded, free ECEC for all children, regardless of their parent’s employment status, where they live, or socioeconomic status.
In March 2022, the Coalition improved the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) system by eliminating the annual cap and increasing the subsidy rate for families with multiple children in care to a maximum of 95 per cent. These changes will reduce the cost of care for eligible families by an average of $2,200 per year.
Still, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that the system designed and implemented by the Coalition in 2018 is deficient. The Coalition has committed $19.4 million to construct 20 new care centres in regional Australia over the next five years.
Labor has promised lower-cost childcare for the majority of families. The new $5.4 billion investment will increase the maximum CCS subsidy to 90% and expand eligibility to households with taxable incomes of up to $530,000.
Labor has also indicated a desire to expand the system to provide universal childcare as an economic reform to boost productivity and growth.
Link to May 2022: Election Scorecard on Work Care and Family Policies
See here for the full text of the W+FPR Federal Election Benchmarks 2022.