Thu, 16 May 2013 - 21:00
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Female Labour Participation

Mr Fletcher asked the Prime Minister, in writing, on 6 February 2013:

What measures is her Government implementing to increase female labour participation?


Ms Gillard: The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

The Australian Government continues its commitment to improving economic participation and outcomes for all Australian women. The Government strongly believes that all Australians should have the opportunity to engage in full and meaningful employment. Supporting women's social and economic participation is central to the Government's commitment to building a strong economy on the basis of a fair and just society.

The Government has achieved significant outcomes with respect to increasing female participation in the workforce and has a number of relevant policies in place, including supporting the provision of affordable and quality child care, the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, reforms to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 and the Fair Work Act 2009, and reforms for the aged care workforce to attract and retain skilled and trained aged care workers, most of whom are women.

More broadly, the Government is also working to ensure low paid and vulnerable workers generally, many of whom are women, are supported and treated fairly.

Affordable Child Care

Access to affordable child care is critical to women's participation in paid work.

The Government has increased its investment in child care, committing $23.1 billion over the four years to 201-16, including $20.6 billion in Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate to help around 900,000 families each year with the cost of child care and helping primary carers back into the workforce. Programs to support affordable access to child care include the following.

Child Care Benefit (CCB) assists parents with the cost of approved and registered child care. The payment of CCB varies depending on family income, the number of children in care, the hours of care, and the type of child care used.

Child Care Rebate (CCR) covers families for 50 per cent of their out-of-pocket approved child care expenses after CCB has been received. This assistance helps eligible working parents and carers with the cost of child care, if they are using approved child care for work-related reasons.

Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance provides assistance with child care fees for parents receiving income support, mostly sole parents, while they work, study or train to enter or re-enter the workforce. An additional $225.1 million over four years from 2012-13 is being provided to meet growing demand for this program.

In Home Care is a flexible form of child care provided in the family home for families whose circumstances may mean that other child care services are not suitable, such as families working shift or non-standard hours, families with a child or children with a disability or those located in rural or remote regions of Australia. In 2011 the Government announced a 17 per cent increase in the allocation of funded In Home Care places.

Child Care Flexibility Fund provides $1.3 million in one-off competitive grants to fund up to 50% of the total costs of projects proposed by community organisations and interested stakeholders to help deliver more flexible child care to better meet the needs of Australian families.

Child Care Flexibility Trials represent an additional $4.2 million investment to help existing child care providers trial longer opening hours. More than 500 families in total will take part in trials to test alternative child care arrangements to see what works best for Australian families, including shiftworkers and emergency service workers.

Early Years Quality Fund will help support the implementation of the National Quality Framework. Grants totalling $300 million over two years will boost the quality of early childhood education and support workplace reform. Eligible services will receive grants to promote productivity and increase wages for employees with a Certificate III by $3 per hour from 1 July 2013. There will also be proportional wage increases higher up the classification scale.

Paid Parental Leave Scheme

The Government's Paid Parental Leave Scheme began on 1 January 2011. The scheme provides eligible working parents with government-funded pay to support them to take time off work to care for a newborn or recently adopted child. It enables women to maintain an attachment to the workforce and increases women's workforce participation. For many low-paid, casual and part-time working women, this is the first time they have had access to this sort of support.

There are two payments under the scheme.

Parental Leave Pay provides up to 18 weeks' pay at the rate of the national minimum wage (currently $606.50 a week before tax) to eligible primary carers (usually birth mothers).

From January 2013, the scheme has been extended to provide eligible dads or partners caring for a child with up to two weeks' Dad and Partner Pay at the rate of the national minimum wage.

Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012

On 22 November 2012, the Parliament passed the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Act 2012 to strengthen the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 and its administering agency's focus on gender equality. These reforms recognise that both men and women experience barriers in the workplace. As part of the reforms, the Act is now called the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 and the Agency is now the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The Workplace Gender Equality Act now requires employers to report on outcomes associated with women's and men's employment, and aims to educate and support businesses to change organisational culture and advance gender equality in their workplaces. Under these reforms, an extra $11.2 million over four years from 2011-12 is being provided, which represents a doubling of funds to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, with most of this extra funding to provide practical help and advice to employers.

The Government understands that Australian women are often stretched between work and family responsibilities and changes to the Workplace Gender Equality Act aim to improve the capacity of women and men to combine paid work and caring responsibilities.

Fair Work Act 2009

The Fair Work Act establishes a strong framework to support women's workforce participation, provides fairness and flexibility for employees, and promotes opportunities and equality in the workplace. The 10 National Employment Standards and modern awards provide employees in the federal system with clear, comprehensive and enforceable minimum protections. This is particularly significant for women, who are statistically more reliant on awards and minimum wages than men.

Specifically, the Fair Work Act:

facilitates additional periods of unpaid parental leave by providing a right to request an extension of unpaid parental leave, which the employer can only refuse on reasonable business grounds;

provides a right to request flexible working arrangements to employees with twelve months service who have responsibility for a child under school age or a child with disability who is under 18 years of age; and

provides employees with enhanced protections from discrimination by adding carer's responsibilities as a ground of discrimination and by providing remedies for discrimination generally.

On 21 March 2013, the Government introduced legislation into the Parliament to expand the right to request flexible work arrangements and improve parental leave entitlements. The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 includes amendments to the Fair Work Act to:

allow employees to take unpaid special maternity leave without reducing their entitlement to unpaid parental leave;

enable pregnant employees to transfer to a safe job regardless of their period of service;

increase the maximum period of concurrent unpaid parental leave from three to eight weeks and allow that leave to be taken in separate periods within the first 12 months of the birth or adoption of a child; and

extend the the right to request flexible work arrangements to more categories of employees.

Closing the gender pay gap for Social and Community Sector workers

The Fair Work Act provides genuine opportunities to address pay equity concerns including extending the equal remuneration provisions to work of equal or comparable value. In a test case of the new provisions, Fair Work Australia has awarded significant wage increases to certain social and community sector workers in recognition that their work had been undervalued on gender grounds.

Around 150,000 of Australia's lowest paid workers are benefiting from substantial pay rises of between 23 and 45 per cent above the minimum rates in the modern award as a result of Fair Work Australia's historic pay equity decision. This represents a significant achievement for women who make up around 120,000 of the 150,000 workers covered by the pay equity order. Over $2 billion has been provided in the Commonwealth share of funding and is being phased over eight years from 1 December 2012.

Aged care workforce reforms

In terms of the workforce, 90 per cent of workers in the residential and aged care industry are women. Through the Aged Care Reform package which is progressively being implemented from 1 July 2012, the Government will provide $1.2 billion over five years to tackle critical shortages in the aged care workforce, benefiting the many women working in this sector. The Government is developing and implementing an Aged Care Workforce productivity strategy in collaboration with the sector to ensure that a skilled workforce is attracted and retained to meet a growing demand.

Attracting and retaining women in the resources and construction sectors

As part of the National Resource Sector Workforce Strategy, $534,000 is being provided over three years to the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) to help enterprises improve their attraction and retention of women. AMMA will work with stakeholders to develop resources, including tools and services, for enterprises to implement strategies to attract and retain more women in the resources and related construction sectors.