They are trained, ready to work and could help fill some of the labor shortages, but many are staying home.
- Childcare sector calls for grants to be advanced to encourage more women to work
- Industry says women don’t work because of prohibitive childcare costs
- Treasurer says advancing grants would be a big extra budget outlay
Women with young children could be key to filling some gaps, but the cost of childcare means there is no financial benefit for many to returning to full-time work.
Now there are growing calls for further support to be accelerated.
The federal government will provide higher childcare subsidies to more families from July next year, but advocacy groups and unions want the changes to be made and increase pressure before the Jobs and Skills Summit later this week.
Under the proposed changes, families with an income of $80,000 will receive a 90% subsidy for their first child.
The grant will decrease as income increases, with each family earning up to $530,000 being eligible for some level of support.
Thrive By Five director Jay Weatherill said the changes are expected to take effect from January.
“Cost of living pressures are worse, labor shortage issues are worse,” he said.
“The precondition for solving our labor shortage problem is to get our child care system in order.”
The Chief Executive Women (CEW), which represents hundreds of women in leadership positions and overseeing more than 1.3 million employees, also wants support.
Non-executive director Sue Morphet said it would encourage more women to return to work and help address the skills shortage.
“If we can release the very talented women who are qualified, experienced and well educated into the job market…then we might be able to reduce some of the worries that companies have right now,” she said.
The CEW call is backed by Australian Council of Trade Union President Michele O’Neil, who said change was “urgently” needed.
“Women are excluded from the labor market. More than 116,000 women could not work at all last year because they could not get any help to take care of children and others,” said she declared.
“Often, employers look abroad to bring in workers [but] we have this ready workforce in Australia who want to work but can’t because they don’t have access to childcare. »
Childcare costs left Canberra mother and civil servant Marianne unable to work full time after the birth of her first child, Ziggy.
“When I went back to work, it wasn’t financially viable to be back for more than three days,” she said.
“I spent many years investing in my career and didn’t want to waste years in the job market losing my skills and all the greatness I would accumulate during that time.”
She is currently on maternity leave with her second child and said that under current arrangements it would not be possible for her to work the hours she wants and pay for childcare.
“We did an online childcare subsidy calculator and if we sent it now it would cost astronomically… we would probably be working part-time,” she said.
Marianne will be better off once the changes are in place next year, but said she was lucky not to have to try to juggle household finances and work at the moment.
“I really feel for people right now…they’re making the impossible choice to pursue their careers and pay huge childcare costs or stay home with their kids,” she said.
An independent report released earlier this year found that if Australia halved the current gap in participation rates and hours of paid work between men and women, there would be 500,000 more full-time equivalent workers.
Advocacy groups and unions have reiterated their calls for the government to work quickly towards universal childcare.
Ms Morphet said this should be seen as economic reform and not social assistance.
“It allows freedom of choice that doesn’t exist right now,” she said.
“It means for companies that the best Australian talent is on offer and available, rather than half of Australian talent or two-thirds of Australian talent being offered and available on a part-time or full-time basis.”
Childcare can help close the pay gap
Another key issue to be addressed at the jobs and skills summit this week is the gender pay gap, and advocacy groups believe childcare could lead the way to close it.
The gender pay gap has grown to 14.1% in the past six months and Ms Morphet said if barriers to re-entering the labor market were reduced, women could have more opportunities to career sooner, as well as long-term benefits like stronger super balances.
“We know that these early childhood education and care reforms will make a meaningful difference so that women can close the gap and develop their own sense of financial security and well-being throughout their lives.” , she said.
Australia is one of the most educated nations in the world, yet the nation ranks 70th for women’s economic participation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.
“[Child care] is such a critical part of ensuring gender equity…that we are increasing women’s participation in the workplace and giving them all the support we need to achieve this,” Ms O’Neil said.
Government says money is a key issue
The federal government has repeatedly suggested the cost of implementing the child care policy is too high, but Treasurer Jim Chalmers opened the door slightly last week.
“Obviously we are ready to discuss it, as we are to all these other issues,” he told RN Breakfast.
“But we have to be aware of budget constraints, the fact that we have a trillion dollar debt and it would cost a substantial amount to bring it forward.”
Ahead of the federal election, Labor said it would invest $5.4 billion in child care, and conservative estimates showed a return on investment of $2 for every $1 invested.
The Treasury Department said it could not comment on the policy’s costs because it is “under consideration for the October 2022-23 budget.”
Ms O’Neil argued that getting more women back into the workforce sooner would help the budget outcome.
“If we increase women’s participation in the workforce…then that money goes back into the economy, those women pay taxes, there’s an overall benefit in economic terms if we have more women working,” he said. she declared.
Mr. Weatherill also urged the government to think long term.
“We have to realize that the costs associated with not making this investment completely dwarf any budgetary costs, and that’s a relatively small budgetary cost,” he said.
“These measures are self-financing [in terms of] avoided costs, unleashed productivity in the wider economy and empowerment of our young citizens. »
The sector continues to struggle with labor shortages
The cost of child care is only part of the puzzle, as more staff are needed in child care centers to meet the demand.
Early years teachers are among the 10 most in-demand professions over the next five years and Mr Weatherill said part of the problem was that staff were not staying in the profession long-term.
“When you have people choosing to move from early childhood to retail because the wages and conditions are better, you know you have a problem,” he said.
The unions want a pay rise and that has the backing of CEW’s Sue Morphet.
“If we had an immediate 10% increase in salaries for early childhood educators, that would make it a bit more beneficial for them to stay,” she said.
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority estimates that 39,000 more early childhood educators will be needed by next year to meet demand.
Some state governments are already introducing new policies to make childcare free for certain age groups, but there are concerns about where to find the extra staff.