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It's About Time - Chapter 10

It's About Time

CHAPTER 10 Conclusion

10.1 Introduction
10.2 Time to care
10.3 A new framework for meeting paid work and family/carer responsibilities
10.4 Making the new framework a reality
10.5 Striking the balance is a shared responsibility

10.1 Introduction

The Australian community has shared many stories about women, men, work and family with HREOC over the course of this project. Time pressures in paid and unpaid work emerged as a central concern. Many families are struggling to meet the time demands of current paid work and family/carer responsibilities and this struggle has wider implications for meeting future care needs, which are likely to increase as the population ages and people engage in paid work for longer periods.1

The Australian community also clearly indicated that it values care, including care for dependents such as children, older people and care for people with disability. The caring work that sustains relationships is also highly valued, including maintaining family relationships and community networks. Valuing care in its broadest sense encompasses self care, including looking after one's own physical and psychological health.2 Time and other pressures resulting from an inadequate mix of workplace, public policy and other institutional supports work against individual capacity to provide these kinds of care.

Another strong theme which emerged from HREOC's consultations with the community was the need for genuine flexibility within workplaces to support employees balancing their paid work and their family/carer responsibilities. While many workplaces offer policies to facilitate paid work and family balance, there are many others that do not. Further, there is often a gap between workplace policies and practice, indicating a clear need for better legal, structural and cultural support for employees with family/carer responsibilities. The costs of not meeting this challenge are immense, particularly for individuals who have to downshift to poorer quality paid work in order to meet their dual responsibilities or drop out of the labour market altogether. There is also a cost for employers, particularly in industries with skills shortages, and a broader cost for the economy as a whole in terms of workforce participation and productivity.

This final paper has identified these and a range of related issues experienced throughout the Australian community. Concerns raised with HREOC were wide-ranging in their scope and the findings and recommendations in this paper reflect this broad approach. This final chapter summarises the paper's major findings and frames them in terms of the stakeholders responsible for implementing them.

10.2 Time to care

Making time to care, valuing care and flexibility in paid work and care arrangements require more than just piecemeal policy and workplace responses. As discussed throughout the body of this final paper, these and many other aspects of combining paid work and family/carer responsibilities need to be a part of a holistic framework for meeting paid work and care needs for Australian families across the life cycle.

A great deal of care and associated unpaid work, such as housework and household management, is provided within families. Because this work takes place within the privacy of the home and the context of the love, duty and reciprocity which characterise family life, care is sometimes viewed as an individual choice or preference. This view fails to take into account the contribution that care makes to our nation's social wellbeing and its support for the economy's capacity to generate productivity and prosperity. Every person who contributes to the economy through their efforts in paid work is either the recipient or the provider of care for a significant part of their lives. It is the work of care, both unpaid and paid, that underpins our economic prosperity and as such it must incorporated into our national goals. Enabling people to both participate both in paid work and unpaid care is thus the responsibility of the range of stakeholders who depend on it. Properly valuing care means sharing the costs as well as the benefits across each of the following social participants - business, government, community and families themselves.

10.3 A new framework for meeting paid work and family/carer responsibilities

This paper has set out a new framework for meeting paid work and family/carer responsibilities in Australia. It includes and must aim to meet these three central challenges:

  • responding to changes in caring needs and responsibilities across the life cycle;
  • achieving equality between men and women in paid and unpaid work; and
  • sharing work and valuing care.3

Building on the findings of our public consultations and submissions received, in addition to the evidence base set out in the Striking the Balance discussion paper, this paper has outlined a series of recommendations to support this new framework.4

10.4 Making the new framework a reality

Throughout this paper the following stakeholders have been identified as responsible for implementing a new framework for meeting the challenge of paid work and family/carer responsibilities. Each has a key role to play in supporting families to manage their dual responsibilities throughout the life course.

The role of government

Government plays a role in setting and implementing broad policy agendas and, in order to adequately support the combination of paid work with family/carer responsibilities, it must include the three elements of the framework in its policies and programs.

Welfare and tax initiatives play a key role in supporting families to combine paid work with their family/carer responsibilities and should ideally facilitate choice and equality for all types of families and their care needs. Currently not all families and paid work and family/carer needs and preferences are being met, nor is the unpaid work of caring properly recognised, particularly for those who spend large amounts of time out of paid work in order to care for family members.5 The paper makes a number of recommendations to modify, review and investigate better ways of supporting people with paid work and family/carer responsibilities through the welfare and tax systems.6

Governments also have a role in regulating the workplace and ensuring that employees with family/carer responsibilities are protected from discrimination and supported by an appropriate legislative framework.7 The Australian Government has a number of national and international human rights obligations relevant to workers with family and carer responsibilities, the principles of which underpin this entire project.8 This paper has found that the current legislative framework is not adequate for supporting employees to meet their current and future care responsibilities. It proposes the expansion of current legal frameworks to support carers by introducing:

  • a Family Responsibilities and Carers' Rights Act which includes a right to request and a duty to consider flexible working arrangements;
  • a national paid maternity leave scheme; and
  • an extension of current Carer's Leave entitlements.9

While much care is provided informally within families and community networks, governments have responsibility for funding the provision of formal care. As noted throughout Chapters 7 and 8, this includes funding for a range of child care, elder care and disability care services.10 Australian and State/Territory governments also have responsibility for funding and delivering services to support people providing care and those receiving care. Some groups of people both receive and provide care and require targeted support to address particular forms of disadvantage that may result.11 This paper has found that there are many gaps in the level and type of formal care support currently provided as well as problems in the mode of its delivery.12 Recommendations 33-45 address the key problems identified by HREOC in response to the views of the Australian community.

All levels of government have an important leadership role to play in promoting a better balance of paid work and family/carer responsibilities, leading by example and supplying the support necessary to back up their rhetoric. This role goes hand in hand with funding for community awareness campaigns to support and propel Australia's progress in supporting paid work and family/carer responsibilities13 and funding data collection to measure this progress and inform future policy development.14

Perhaps most importantly, it is governments who are responsible for incorporating a vision of social wellbeing which encompasses the principle of shared work - valued care with the more traditional goal of economic wellbeing. Supporting this principle, along with a commitment to gender equality and supporting paid work and care across the life course as needs change, should be a central and coordinating feature of all government efforts to support families to meet their paid work and family/carer responsibilities.

The role of employers

Employers have an important role to play in implementing these principles and, in addition to the roles outlined above, government agencies can play a role in supporting them to do so.15

This paper has found that workplace recognition of employee family/carer responsibilities is a key issue in the Australian community. The "ideal worker" is often understood in the workplace as an individual who can meet the demands of paid work without any interruptions from family life.16 However this assumption is flawed because very few employees do not have any family or care responsibilities across the course of their lives. And all employees must have time to care for themselves. Not recognising the family/care aspects of employees' lives is a particularly untenable approach given the ageing of the Australian workforce and the corresponding likelihood of increased care needs for parents and spouses. Elder care is the next frontier in the broader "work and family" debate and workplaces will need to respond to it in the years to come.

Other workplace issues that have been identified by HREOC include:

  • the need for a mix of certainty and flexibility in conditions of work, adaptable for employees across the life cycle and paid work and family/carer needs change;
  • the need for structural support for gender equality and equality for all types of carers;
  • the need for cultural change to implement existing family-friendly policies and to support further change; and
  • the need for expanded legal rights, as mentioned above.17

Workplace responses that will meet these needs include more flexibility around hours and, for many employees, shorter but secure hours of paid work, quality part time work, pay equity for men and women, family-friendly policies that incorporate gender equality, including stronger incentives for men to take them up and the workplace culture change to support this, better strategies for implementing family-friendly policies, and greater leadership and organisational support both within individual workplaces and at an industry level.18 A number of recommendations support further work in these areas.19

The importance of senior and line managers was a common theme in HREOC's consultations and focus groups. Men in managerial or otherwise influential roles have the potential to be a powerful source of change in terms of encouraging implementation of family-friendly policies and encouraging supportive attitudes within organisations. For male employees in particular, role modelling by senior men indicates permission to take up family-friendly policies without risk to their livelihoods or careers.20

While there is not a "one-size-fits-all" solution to the family/carer responsibilities of all employees across the diversity of industries, occupations and employer sizes, all employers share responsibility for helping their employees meet their family and carer obligations.

The role of communities

Government and employers cannot meet the challenge of balancing paid work and family/carer responsibilities without the support of the broader Australian community. It is communities that provide the social infrastructure that facilitates the combination of paid work and care. This includes local community networks that can both provide care and support those who care.

In order to function, this social infrastructure must be supported by the necessary physical infrastructure. Governments have a responsibility to make sure that the planning and design of our cities and transport systems provide this support. Without it, the quality and quantity of time available for caring responsibilities, including engaging with friends, neighbours and community activities, is lessened. While our built environment cannot on its own create community, it can facilitate community interaction by making sure people have the places and the time to interact with each other.21

Community services contribute to this caring environment and play a vital role in directly supporting as well as educating and building the capacity of those who provide care to others. Adequate funding and appropriate services that meet differing carer and care needs are essential supports for families undertaking paid work and family/carer responsibilities.

Meeting the needs of both female and male carers is also important. Evidence gathered by HREOC shows that men in particular require targeted support to facilitate their participation in care work.22 Community-based programs and resources to support men's involvement in families as carers is a crucial part of encouraging shared work and valued care within individual families and its acceptance in the community as a whole.23 Positive community attitudes toward paid work and family/carer responsibilities play a key role in supporting both women and men as employees and carers.24

The role of families

Individuals and families themselves are best placed to make decisions about the paid work and family/carer responsibilities that are right for them. However HREOC has heard that many families are unable to make the choices that they want to make due to inadequate support and a mix of pressures arising within the workplace, government policy, formal care provision and community attitudes.25 The paper's recommendations across each of these areas aim to increase the level of support and decrease the pressures experienced by families so they can make choices that are appropriate for their circumstances without undue penalty. In particular, they are aimed at making sure that the decisions families make at certain points in the life course (for example, lowering paid workloads when demands for care are high) do not lock them into untenable long term positions of disadvantage.

HREOC has found that despite their desire to be hands on carers in the family, men in particular experience significant cultural expectations and pressures to be primary breadwinners, and this hampers their ability to be involved parents and care givers. Women, on the other hand, experience significant pressures resulting from a dual and sometimes triple load of paid work, child care and elder care, along with their disproportionate responsibility for the majority of other unpaid household work.26 Men and women who are locked into either of these gendered roles over a long period can experience significant financial disadvantage (particularly in old age), poor quality family relationships and even relationship breakdown, poor health from time pressure, lack of time for self care and a poor match between expectations of parenthood (such as a desired number of children) and their fulfilment. Without the ability to negotiate and transition between different paid work and family/carer roles both women and men can experience damaging trade-offs.

For many Australian families, HREOC has found that sharing parental care in particular is a desirable choice and an ideal vision of family life. Many families do not currently feel this is a realistic option, especially at critical or transitional points in their lives.27 The findings and recommendations made throughout this paper aim to make this vision a genuine option for all family types, including families with myriad family/carer responsibilities including care for people with disability and elder care.

10.5 Striking the balance is a shared responsibility

Organic social and demographic change will go some way to making shared work and valued care a reality in Australian society, particularly as elder care needs increase in line with the ageing of the population. An increase in care needs will inevitably drive a response which involves more and more people combining paid work and family/carer responsibilities. In large part however, meeting the social and financial costs of our current and future paid work and care needs requires a much more holistic response on behalf of the range of social stakeholders who both bear the costs of care and share in its benefits. This is because individual responses to increasing paid work and family/carer responsibilities can only go so far without either a large downturn in workforce participation or a widespread care crisis. Governments, workplaces, communities, families and individuals all have a share in a fair spread of paid work and family/carer responsibilities across Australian society.

Current inequalities in the spread of the costs and benefits of paid work and the essential work of care are not sustainable. What is urgently needed is a new framework to guide a national response that incorporates changes in caring needs and responsibilities across the life cycle, equality between men and women and the principle of shared work and valued care. We need to refocus national attention on this issue in order to properly value the work of care and share the responsibility for its provision between men and women, and between the private and the public spheres. It is about time.


[1] See discussion in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

[2] These categorisations of care are identified in Graeme Russell and Linda Haas Organisational Challenges in Integrating Work and Caring White paper National Diversity Think Tank and Diversity Council Australia, 2006, p 2.

[3] See Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. The shared work - valued care principle is explained in Chapter 2 (section 2.3).

[4] See p XR for a list of this paper's recommendations.

[5] See Chapter 6.

[6] See Chapter 6, Recommendations 25-32.

[7] See Chapter 1 and Chapter 3.

[8] See Chapter 1 and Chapter 3.

[9] See Chapter 3 and Chapter 4.

[10] See Chapter 7 and Chapter 8.

[11] See Chapter 8.

[12] See Chapter 7 and Chapter 8.

[13] See Chapter 5 and Recommendation 22.

[14] See Chapter 1, Recommendations 1-3, and Recommendation 11.

[15] See Chapter 4 and Recommendations 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 19, 20 and 21.

[16] See discussion in Chapter 4 (sections 4.1 and 4.4).

[17] See Chapter 4.

[18] See Chapter 4.

[19] See Recommendations 7, 8, 9, 10, 16, 18, 19 and 20.

[20] See Chapter 4 (section 4.8).

[21] See Chapter 9.

[22] See discussion throughout Chapter 5.

[23] See Chapter 5 (section 5.8) and Recommendations 21, 22, 23 and 24.

[24] See Chapter 5 and Recommendation 22.

[25] See Chapter 2 and Chapter 5.

[26] See Chapter 5, and also Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 in the Striking the Balance discussion paper.

[27] See Chapter 5.

31 July, 2009