Big Business, Unions Call for Childcare Reform to Bring Women Back to Work

Big business and the unions are looking for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s May 11 budget to get women back to work by revamping the childcare and paid parental leave systems.

Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), argues that Australia’s population is growing at its lowest rate since World War I and that it is critical to lift female participation in workplace.

“Our child care and paid parental leave systems are a barrier to women who want to get back into work and they don’t work for modern families,” Westacott said, noting that the Productivity Commission found over 90,000 people nationwide didn’t work last year, the main reason being the high cost of child care.

The BCA is asking the federal government to increase the child care subsidy from 85 to 95 percent for lower-income households, tapering off for families with an income of over $80,000, and a more flexible parental leave system that encourages equal sharing of caring responsibilities between both parents.

“The current system encourages one parent, almost always mum, to take the lion’s share of time away from work,” Westacott said. “Under our scheme, families would get to choose how they divide their leave based on what works best for them.”

The federal opposition has said it had a similar plan as the BCA with the same goal.

“To remove some of the barriers that exist for women to work the fourth or fifth day in the week,” Amanda Rishworth, Labor’s early education spokeswoman said. “It is critical for economic growth to unleash this really important workforce, our women’s workforce, and to do that we need to support them when it comes to child care.”

Jay Weatherill, the former South Australian premier said the reform of child care and early learning system needs to be addressed in the upcoming budget.

“In modern day Australia it takes two incomes for most families to buy a house, but it takes affordable child care to earn two incomes,” Weatherill said.

Unions are asking for free universal child care, a plan of 26-week paid parental leave, 10 days paid domestic violence leave, and wage equality for women.

“Many of us are wondering whether we have witnessed a genuinely transformative moment for women over the last few months or whether once the headlines die down, so will any commitment to real change,” said Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil, who will launch a series of budget measures suggestion later in the week.

“The 2021 budget will give us this answer,” she said.

AAP contributed to this report.

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