Labor win, a win for gender equality, RMIT experts available for comment

Labor win, a win for gender equality, RMIT experts available for comment

RMIT experts discuss the Labor Government's gender equality agenda, including a focus on the care sector, instilling the principle of gender equity into the Fair Work Act, and proposing to deliver more generous childcare subsidies and eligibility caps to help remove barriers to women’s workforce participation.

Dr Leonora Risse is a Lecturer in Economics at RMIT University, and a Research Fellow with the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University. She serves as the National Chair of the Women in Economics Network.

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Topics: gender equality, female workforce participation, childcare, labour economics 

“With the ALP now forming government, we should expect to see the issue of gender equality elevated on the policy agenda, backed by the success of a significant number of independent female candidates and the swing towards the Greens.  

“ALP’s gender equality agenda includes a focus on the care sector, instilling the principle of gender equity into the Fair Work Act, and fully implementing the recommendations of the Respect At Work Report. 

“Childcare policy has been a centrepiece for the ALP. It is proposing to deliver more generous childcare subsidies and eligibility caps, as a way to dismantle barriers to women’s workforce participation and re-position childcare as an investment that contributes to stronger economic growth. 

“To achieve this goal, reductions in the costs of childcare need to be accompanied by greater investment in the childcare workforce. Without expanded workforce capacity, cheaper childcare risks adding to demand in an already overstretched sector. This can lead to further shortages, an erosion in quality, and potential fee hikes. Improving accessibility, such as childcare for shift workers and workers in remote areas, is also needed. 

“The ALP plans to ask the Productivity Commission to undertake a review of the childcare subsidy system. Such a review should focus on undoing the financial penalties that many women face for increasing their workforce involvement from part-time to full-time hours. This involves childcare costs, as well as the way that family tax benefits taper downwards as the second-income earner (mostly women) work more. A review of these ‘effective marginal tax rates’ could also be part of a broader review of the tax system, which many economists have highlighted as essential for future fiscal sustainability, efficiency and fairness of Australia’s economic settings.  

“There is scope for the incoming government to look at how to improve paid parental leave, and specifically to reverse the LNP’s proposal to remove the dad-and-partner pay component. International evidence shows that specifying a dedicated portion of paid parental leave to fathers is necessary to bring about a change in care-giving choices and lift women’s full-time workforce participation.”

Distinguished Professor Sara Charlesworth is a Professor of Gender, Work and Regulation in the School of Management, RMIT University and co-convenor Work + Family Policy Roundtable

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Topics: gender and care policy, care workers

“The gender pay gap has been persistent in Australia – Australian women are the most highly educated in the OECD. But today women with the same qualifications as men earn less than those men, a pay gap that commences shortly after graduation. Even in feminised sectors such as retail, aged care and childcare there is a gender pay gap.  

“Labor has promised to make equal pay an explicit object of the Fair Work Act. It has also promised to establish an Expert Equal Pay Panel in the Fair Work Commission with a research unit attached. These reforms are a critical first step to decreasing the gender pay gap over time because they will make equal pay a focus of industrial relations and provide evidence-based expertise to inform the implementation of pay-setting mechanisms  

“Meanwhile, both major parties took promises on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) to the Election.  Labor promised a $5.4 billion investment in ECEC  to decrease out of pocket expenses for families and increase the number of households eligible for subsidised childcare. However, challenges will remain for families in accessing affordable quality childcare unless Labor moves to provide universal access to high quality ECEC.  

“One challenge is the market-based model increasingly used in Australia to provide childcare. Large for-profit providers, including a number of private equity firms, dominate the sector.

“These companies are less likely to provide childcare services outside large cities or in lower socio-economic areas because these areas are less profitable. This makes it hard for families in those locations to be able to access any childcare at all.   

“Another challenge is the work-based activity test required to access childcare subsidies. To access these subsidies parents need to be in paid work or studying. However, good quality childcare is not only vital for increased female employment participation. It is also essential for good cognitive and emotional development outcomes for children. All children, whether their parents are in work or not, should have the right to good quality ECEC.”

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