Diversity Council Australia welcomed the release of the Productivity Commission’s draft report into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning and supports moves to improve access to and affordability of childcare.
Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO, said one of the biggest factors affecting the participation of female employees in organisations is childcare.
“Nearly 95% of employers we surveyed said access to and availability of affordable childcare presented difficulties for their employees. There is no doubt that this is a major disincentive to women participating more fully in the workforce.
“The provision of a single child-based subsidy, paid directly to the family’s choice of approved services, would give families a lot more flexibility in childcare options and reduce the complexity of the system,” said Lisa.
Paid Parental Leave (PPL) is important but childcare is a bigger issue for employers, according to Lisa.
“The existing government funded PPL scheme provides a very important safety net for new parents. However, as suggested by the Productivity Commission and in line with feedback from our members, we would support directing at least part of the funds allocated for the new PPL scheme towards improving accessibility and affordability of childcare as this is likely to have a greater positive impact on the workforce participation of women.
“We note the Productivity Commission’s proposal to remove the fringe benefit tax exemption for employer provided ECEC. DCA members have indicated that they are seeking greater support and flexibility in this area in order to increase the number of Australian employers that are able to offer workplace assisted childcare and thus assist working parents return to their paid work. Encouraging more employer provided childcare can only assist in improving the accessibility and availability of childcare for working parents,” said Lisa.
Access to flexible working and careers is also critical to women’s workforce participation, added Lisa.
“While not explicitly addressed in the Productivity Commission report, DCA encourages the Government to ensure that an emphasis on workplace flexibility is promoted and supported as a critical part of maintaining progress on workplace gender equity and supporting parents – especially those with younger children – to remain in paid work. Clearly, more needs to be done to support the cultural shift in Australian business necessary to mainstream flexibility to the benefit of Australian parents,” said Lisa.
What DCA’s survey found
In developing its submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry, DCA conducted a survey of its members in which we asked for feedback on the Commission’s issues paper, from employers and from individual parents working in their organisations. More than 40 different employers provided detailed information about their experiences with childcare. The key results were:
Employers reported that access to childcare presented major difficulties for their business:
- Nearly 95% said access to and availability of affordable childcare presented difficulties for their employees.
- An astonishing 97% reported that access to childcare limited the number of hours their employees were available to work.
- 95% described the impact of access to childcare on parents in their organisations returning to work from parental leave as significant or major.
- Close to half of employers who responded are already providing some kind of childcare support for their employees but demand is increasing with more than 85% expecting demand for childcare among their employees to increase in the next five years and close to 90% expecting it to increase over the next 10 years.
- Respondents said the Australian Government could do more to assist employers and their employees with childcare, especially in the area of regulation. 93% of employers said childcare expenses should be tax deductible for families, and nearly 85% supported extending existing government support to cover certain types of childcare not currently funded or to increase funding for specific types of childcare — for example providing regulated in-home care.
Parents and carers also reported significant problems with childcare:
- Close to half said problems with access to, or the flexibility, cost or quality of early childhood education and care were preventing them from undertaking work or were impacting on the number of hours they would prefer to work.
- Nearly 80% said they had experienced difficulties accessing suitable care for their child and close to 90% said this was due to a lack of services in their area or available places at the times they required.