Major parties need to work harder to support women and families: Scorecard

The election promises of both major parties fall short of giving families the support they need to balance the demands of work and care, according to a new scorecard developed by 31 academics at 18 Australian universities.

The scorecard evaluates Labor and Coalition policies against research-informed recommendations developed and released by the Work and Family Policy Roundtable earlier this year. Many of the recommendations have not been met by either party.

The scorecard shows that while neither party’s policies fully address the critical issues affecting Australian families caused by the severe disruptions to work and care during the pandemic, Labor policy commitments go further.

Co-convenor of the Roundtable, Associate Professor Elizabeth Hill from The University of Sydney said that the pandemic had exposed the limits of existing work and care policies, such as unaffordable childcare and an inadequate national paid parental leave scheme.

"Successive federal governments have taken an ad hoc approach to work and care policy over the past 20 years. We need improved policies, informed by research, that support workers to better combine work and care. These will deliver substantial social and economic benefits," Associate Professor Hill said.

"If we can get the policy architecture right, everyone wins - those we care for, workers, the care workforce, employers, the economy and society. Robust policies for work and care support community wellbeing and boost economic productivity.

"While we welcome the focus on some of Australia’s work and care challenges during this election campaign, the policy proposals still do not adequately reflect the realities of women’s labour force participation, now at historic highs, or young worker’s desire for more equal sharing of family care and paid work."

Professor Sara Charlesworth, co-convenor of the Roundtable from RMIT University said plans to strengthen gender pay equity in the Fair Work Act and bring in specialist expertise on pay equity and the care sectors was significant.

"These measures reflect the research evidence on the importance of industrial relations policies in closing the gender pay gap and addressing poor wages and conditions in paid care work," Professor Charlesworth said.

"Decent work that pays a living wage, supports secure and predictable work hours, and provides for paid leave to care for family and community are critical - not only to the delivery of high-quality care services but also to women’s economic security more generally.

"And while the widespread support for higher wages for aged care workers is encouraging, we need more focus on addressing the low rate of Job Seeker. Such income support is vital to many worker-carers who may spend time out of the paid workforce."

How the policies compare:

1. Decent work and job security

  • Labor has committed to widening the scope of the Fair Work Act beyond employees. Labor announced it will ensure labour-hire workers used by employers do not receive less pay than workers employed directly. Labor has committed to 10 days paid domestic violence (DV) leave but not to the extension of paid DV or other forms of paid leave to those who are not permanent employees.
  • Neither major party has committed to addressing Australia’s poor social protection safety net, including raising the low rate of Job Seeker.
  • The Coalition has not made election announcements related to decent work and job security.

2. Paid parental leave

  • Both major parties fail to support an adequate and effective national paid parental leave system. The Roundtable recommends 26 weeks shared between both parents, plus an additional six weeks on a ’use it or lose it’ basis available to fathers and partners, plus superannuation.
  • The Coalition has redesigned the national parental leave scheme to combine 18 weeks (for the primary carer) with two weeks of father and partner pay.
  •  Neither major party supports paying superannuation on paid parental leave, a significant oversight, that negatively impacts women’s income in retirement.

3. Childcare and early education

  • Both major parties share the objective of increasing women’s employment participation rate. But lack of access to affordable care remains a sticking point.
  • The Coalition improved the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) system in March 2022, dropping the annual cap and lifting the subsidy rate for families with multiple children in care to a maximum of 95%. These changes will reduce the cost of care for eligible families by an average of $2,200/year but even with these changes the system designed and implemented by the Coalition in 2018 has been found to be deficient by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The Coalition has provided $19.4 million dollars to build 20 new care centres over the next 5 years in regional Australia.          
  • Labor has promised cheaper childcare for most families. The promised new $5.4 billion investment will lift the maximum CCS subsidy to 90% and expand eligibility for households with a taxable income of up to $530,000. Labor has also signaled they want to expand the system to offer universal childcare as an economic reform to drive productivity and growth. Labor has committed to develop and implement a whole of government Early Years Strategy that will be accountable for the wellbeing, education and development of young children. Labor will charge the Productivity Commission and ACCC with supporting the changes, managing costs and promoting transparency in the sector.

4. A sustainable and high-quality care workforce

  • Labor supports the current work value case before the Fair Work Commission for an increase in frontline aged care workers’ wages and will fund the outcome. Labor will establish Care & Community Sector and Pay Equity Expert Panels within the Fair Work Commission (FWC) that will provide expertise on gender pay equity and care sector work. Labor has not however committed to ensuring publicly funded care services directly to employ care workers as recommended by the W+FPR.
  • The Coalition says they will ’honour’ the decision of the FWC in the aged care work value case but has not made any announcements that might address systemic defects in the IR system for care workers.

5. Gender pay equality and safe workplaces

  • Labor’s policy aligns with recommendations from the Roundtable that equal remuneration be an explicit objective of the Fair Work Act and that an equal remuneration principle be established. Labor has also committed to prohibiting pay secrecy clauses and requiring companies of more than 250 employees to publicly report their gender pay gap.  
  • The Coalition has committed additional resources to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency but not made any specific commitments on gender pay equality.  
  • In line with Roundtable recommendations, Labor will implement all recommendations of the Jenkins Respect@Work report including a "positive duty" on employers to take reasonable steps to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.
  • The Coalition has implemented 43 of the 55 recommendations. It is currently consulting on key recommended legislative reforms including a ’positive duty’ on employers to take reasonable steps to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimization, and own motion inquiries by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Photo credits: Top photo of family and woman working at laptop (Pixabay), older woman looking at phone (Unsplash)

The Australian Work + Family Policy Roundtable, a research network of academics, is proposing a series of benchmarks needed to inform evidence-based public policy prior to the Federal election.

The Work and Family Policy Roundtable has delivered a pre-election score card that rates how Labor and Liberal policies stack up against the research evidence on what a strong work, care and family policy platform should look like.

What are the causes of Australia’s gender pay gap? Dr Elizabeth Hill, expert in work and family policy from the Department of Political Economy, explains.


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