Technology entrepreneur Luke Anear, who founded workplace health software provider SafetyCulture, said additional funding for childcare would be a “no-brainer”.
“No woman in Australia should be unable to work due to caring for children,” he said, noting the company paid 26 weeks parental leave. “Hopefully, the 2022 jobs summit becomes the turning point where we no longer hold women back from work in Australia.”
Economist Leonora Risse said there are 125,000 women who report that they want to work but cannot because of childcare and other unpaid care responsibilities.
“If they could join the workforce, it would boost women’s labor force participation rates by 1.2 per centage points,” Dr Risse said.
In a later panel, lamenting the slow pace of change on a range of fronts, UTS chancellor Catherine Livingstone warned Australia has a pattern of behavior of “repeatedly asking the same question”.
“It feels like Groundhog Day,” she said. “I went back to the [Kevin Rudd-led] 2020 summit report under the productivity theme, and what was there a very clear recommendation for early childhood education.
“Had purposeful action being taken at that time in 2008, we would now be seeing that first cohort of students entering the tertiary education system better equipped, with competencies and skills to take advantages of today’s opportunities.
“We need to have the conviction to act with purpose and with accountability on our agreed priorities.”
Penalty rates hurt women
However, Alexi Boyd, the CEO of small business lobby COSBOA, Alexi Boyd, told the summit that penalty rates make it commercially unviable for smaller firms to give women more hours.
“We would like to offer more hours they are seeking. However, these hours currently must be paid at overtime penalty rates or double time and a half depending on the additional hours,” Ms Boyd said.
“This imposition of penalty rates makes it commercially unviable for us to provide more hours. Instead, we’re forced to engage employees, which complicates the system and means we have to engage with more workers.”
Ms O’Neil said enterprise bargaining rules put women at a disadvantage due to the nature of their work.
“We have a bargaining system that’s designed for large male-dominated workplaces, locking women. [who work] in feminised industries out of the system and leaving them without power to join others and negotiate,” Ms O’Neil told the opening session of the summit.
“Let’s be really clear that arguments to keep our bargaining system in the past and only enterprise based, are arguments to cement women’s low pay for generations to come.”
The summit heard there are many systemic, financial and cultural barriers that lock women in insecure, low-paid and under-recognised jobs while also bearing a greater share of unpaid caring and domestic duties.
Georgie Dent, executive director of advocacy group The Parenthood, said that the new childcare subsidy system will immediately free up 44,000 full-time workers into the economy.
“The reason they are not working at all or as much as they would like to is because families simply either cannot afford or cannot access appropriate care,” Ms Dent said.
That led to the average Australian woman missing out on $693,000 in income and $180,000 in superannuation over the course of her life in what she described as “economic insanity”.
Helen Dalley-Fisher, convenor of the Equality Rights Alliance, said the Australian economy was “propped up by the unpaid and underpaid labor of women.
“We can’t keep asking women to babysit the economy,” Ms Dalley-Fisher said.
She said that Australia had one of the most gender-segregated workforces in the world and that enterprise bargaining worked to disadvantage female-heavy sectors.