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Future economic options for women - the Coalition's viewpoint



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"FU TURE ECONOMIC OFTIONS

FOR WOMEN -THE COALITIONS VIEWPOINT

FRAN BAILEY MHR

SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSUMER AFFAIRS

Labor Council of Iv w South Wales

Conference

Sydney

21 October 1992

COMMONWEALTH PA RLIA M ENTARY LIBRARY M IC A H

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FU TU RE ECONOMIC OPTIONS FOR WOMEN

"All women need employment, active, useful employment; and if they do not have it, they sink down into a state of listlessness and insipidity and become enfeebled in health and prematurely old simply because denied this great want of nature. Nothing has tended more to the physical and moral degradation of the race than the erroneous and silly idea that woman is too weak, too delicate a creature to have imposed upon her the more active duties of life" Amelia Bloomer, in "Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer" 3895.

Women have certainly come a long way in the one hundred years since that statement was made. However, today it is not an idea that women are too weak to work, that poses as a barrier to women gaining work, but a depressed economy and high levels

of unemployment.

In fact, in Australia we have in excess of half a million women underemployed or unemployed.

The future economic options of women will continue to be severely limited unless we can get the economy back into a healthy state. Only with a growing and healthy economy will the financial position of women be secure and will provide the opportunity to advance. The key to that advancement, is choicel

However, many women today can never hope to fulfil their true potential, because they remain locked into roles often not of their choosing. In discussing the issue of future economic options and what lies ahead for women under a Coalition Government it is worth remembering the diversity o f women.

We are young, we are old, we are black, we are white, most of us speak English as our main language, but many of us do not. Some of us are disabled. Some may find'it surprising that 2.5 million of us live outside urban areas. 70% of us are in the paid workforce either full or part time and the majority of us have family responsibilities.

Our very diversity demands a recognition of special needs and requires reform to provide choice. However, many of us arc denied the opportunity to make this choice because of work, financial and social constraints. Underlying these concerns is the need for change. The Coalition believes that economically and socially, there is a

desperate need to change work and family practises in Australia to benefit all Australians in every aspect of their lives whether it be in the home, in the paid workforce, or those receiving education or training.

WOMEN IN SOCIETY Australian women have steadily taken greater control over their lives. To give just a few examples:

* women now choose the family home in about 70 per cent of cases; * more than one third of all small businesses are owned and run by women and the number is increasing at three times the rate for men; and * one-third of Australian farmers are women.

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Despite those advances, women still suffer from various forms of discrimination, including physical and sexual abuse, being denied a promotion because of their gender and being paid less.

The Coalition believes that women, along with the rest of Australia, should be given a fair go and the opportunity to make decisions and choices that are in their best interests. However, this is not a new phenomena - Liberals have always had a strong record in promoting the views of women and fostering equal opportunity.

It will no doubt surprise some of you here today, to hear that many of the changes in polity and legislation which were considered as "breakthroughs" for women were implemented by Liberal Governments, These include, introducing child endowment, equal pay legislation and establishing the National Women's Advisory Council * to name but a few.

EEO PRACTICES Thirteen years ago Jan Harper and Lyn Richards wrote a book called "Mothers and Working Mothers". At the beginning of the book they made an interesting point

when they wrote "when a woman has a baby in our society, she acquires with it a role - she is now a mother, Should she also be in paid employment, she takes on a further role - working mother. In the majority of c*ies, there is no equivalent second role for the male parent.

These comments still hold true today. Men are not classified according to their marital or parental status, but women are. Australian women still face greater barriers than men when it comes to establishing full-time, successful careers.

Women's, job horizons and options are limited by social conditioning, education, and the training and retraining opportunities that are available to them; while many women arc disadvantaged because of dual responsibilities of home and work commitments. .

The Coalition does not accept that sufficient women of ability are being appointed to boards and committees either by the Federal Government or by the private sector and this must change.

A Coalition Government will retain the Office of the Status of Women and the National Women's Consultative Council and make all government departments develop policies and programs relevant to women. While we will not retain the

Affirmative Action Agenuy, there is no way that its work will be scrapped. The abolition of the Agency will nut impact on the legislative guarantees of equal opportunity. The Coalition believes the work of the AAA should be undertaken within the Industrial Relations department where it will be enhanced with more

effective methods to ensure that equality plans are actually carried out. An Affirmative Action plan is useless if neither the employer nor the union gets the details to the workforce. Women can only take advantage of that plan if they have all the information. I believe that a summary of the plan, at the very least, needs to be given to each staff member.

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The Coalition wholeheartedly supports equality of opportunity and non-discriminatory arrangements. In line with this belief, compulsory retirement will be abolished and the pension age for women will be raised from 60 to 65 over a five to six year phase in period.

With a life expectancy of 80 compared to 74 for men, the opportunity for women to remain in work if they wish to, will make a significant different to their quality of life in retirement and their own self esteem.

The Coalition supports the conciliation model for settling complaints about sex discrimination. We oppose making the complaint process more legalistic because the end result would be to discriminate against those very women who need to access it, We would encourage greater use of dispute resolution procedures before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Part of the reason that women arc held back "career-wise" is due to the fact that women are often not given the education or the opportunity to enter some career fields. Women, especially have been easily directed into a fairly limited range of skills

and therefore a limited range of employment. Girls should be encouraged to study for the less traditional options at school - maths and sciences.

While the retention rate to Year 32 has increased and there has been a welcomed increase in girls going on to tertiary education, a 1990 Government report, "Subject Choice in Senior Secondary School" shows subject enrolment patterns differed little from traditional choices. Topically girls choose from a small range of possible jobs - but ones that provide limited scope for advancement.

Reality paints a stark picture. It shows that: * girls will work for at least 30 years of their adult life; * they work largely in retail and manufacturing and are therefore more vulnerable to industry and economy changes; and

* their future economic security is less secure given that one in three Australian marriages ends in divorce and therefore women must be prepared and able to support themselves.

The planning for their future career must start at school. We have to make sure that girls develop several options and that they get relevant counselling, and relevant work experience. Changes are occurring slowly for example:

A new vocationally oriented unit for secondary school students supported by Shell, Alcoa, BHP and ICI aims to awaken the potential of young women about to embark upon their careers. This takes the form of an eight week unit of study for year eleven students and aims to change the attitude of both male and female students. For

example, it encourages boys to realise that they might work for a woman, or have a partner who has a career. It also makes girls aware that two out of three women work, not because they want to, but because they have to. It emphasises choosing a career, rather than applying for a job.

Fightback! commits us to developing world class schools. This will involve an additional $3 billion of expenditure over the rest of this decade. Women especially will benefit from the creation of an additional 25,000 new TAPE places - the sector which is of most benefit to women trying to re-enter the workforce.

WORK AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS The structure of the Australia family has changed over the years. No longer is it correct to assume that the "A-typical" Australian family is a father, mother and two children, with the father as the breadwinner and th i mother staying at home to look

after the children.

Despite those changes, the family still remains the cornerstone of society, with Australians ranking its importance very highly. It is therefore important that family and workplace relationships can lit together harmoniously.

Workers with family responsibilities face additional stress caused by a whole range of factors, including childcare arrangements, care of sick children, or even the need to leave work at a certain time to pick up children.

The difficulty for employers is that problems at home have a major impact on productivity in the workplace. It is estimated that 20% of employees suffer stress as a result of conflict between work and family life; whilst absenteeism is estimated to cost industry $400 per day, per worker for every lost day. A work environment which takes account of these problems can help to alleviate stress and facilitate increased efficiency and productivity.

In fact, research in Australian companies has shown that organisations addressing work and family issues can benefit from reduced lateness and absenteeism, increased productivity and better morale. ‘

A paper released earlier this year by Marriage Guidance Australia called, "Family Stress and Work Productivity" supports that view. The paper notes that in the face of growing conflict between work and family responsibilities, that family friendly policies have reduced problems of absenteeism and the loss of experienced staff and improved

commitment to companies.

These family friendly policies include such things as the use of flexible working hours, assistance with child care, more permanent part time work, family leave and improved communication between employers and employees. The Coalition's policies will work to help reduce the conflict between family life and work. Our policies are designed to enable all workers to integrate career and family responsibilities and secure financial independence.

Specific measures outlined in Fightback! to help women and their families: * a 30% cut in income tax * an increase in the tax free threshold from $5,400 to $7000 - so that an additional 320,000 low income earners will no longer pay income tax at all.

* families will be helped by doubling of the family allowance for families with

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combined incomes up to $30,000. * increasing the annual dependent spouse rebate lor families with children by $300. * increasing from $100 to $400 in the Employment Entry Payment to assist sole parents to re-enter the workforce.

* opportunity for young Australians, under 35 years, to borrow against 75% of their accumulated superannuation savings for their first home loan.

All of these measures will help Australian families and especially women. And most importantly Fightback! will help create jobs - and provide the opportunity for secure and lasting employment for both men and women.

Integral to the Coalition's Fightback! plan is the introduction of a GST because it will enable us to abolish major, hidden taxes, and cut income tax - and so remove the burdens from business that prevent them from hiring more people and reward people for their hard work and effort.

Our measures in Fightback! contrast sharply with those announced by the Prime Minister in his One Nation statement in February this year. Indeed, as Padriac McGuiness wrote in the Australian just after the statement was released 'T he most curious thing about Paul Keating's mini-budget is how old-fashioned, male orientated

and naive it is".

In tact, tax cuts in One Nation will not help thosi women, young people or elderly low income earners. There are: * 1.84 million women with taxable incomes of less than $20,700; * 820,000 young people aged under 25 with taxable income of less than $20,700; and

* 450,000 people aged 65 and over with taxable income of less than $20,700.

Under Labor there will be no increase in the tax free threshold or cuts in personal income tax rates from 20 cents in the dollar to 16.2 cents for these low income earners. I believe that that is unfair. Indeed it was the Australian Council of Social Services who condemned the Government's tax cuts, labelling them as "highly unfair

and dangerous".

CHILDCARE Studies have shown overwhelming support for the belief that more women would re­ enter the workforce if child care facilities were more accessible and affordable. A study by the Australian National University concluded that if women can depend on child care being available, then younger women are more likely to invest time in

acquiring skills and increase their commitment to the labour force thus enabling them to enter highly skilled occupations which have been traditionally male occupations which pay higher wages. ·

Today 60.4% of couples with dependent children have both parents working, while 56% of sole parents with dependent children are working. This means that more than half Australian families with dependent children, have to balance work and family commitments. Consequently, there is a desperate need for affordable, quality, child care facilities.

Many parents are forced to put together a patchwork of child core arrangements because no single service is adequate for their requirements. This is particularly so, for women, working long, irregular or late hours, or for women attending evening

classes or playing sport. The private sector is willing to fill this need, but cannot do so because of crippling penalty rates.

Apart from needing, accessible quality child care, mothers need quality child care which is affordable. According to a study released in July by the Australian Bureau of Statistics cost is a major problem. In this study thirty-four percent of survey

respondents claimed even if child care was available, it was too expensive to use.

The cost of child care has doubled in the last eight years and it is set to rise steeply if the Government's National Accreditation program goes ahead, Under this scheme, centres will no longer be eligible to receive fee relief unless they are accredited; that is, judged to provide appropriate early childhood programs. This is despite the fact that they are already subject to state and territory regulations, which ensure that there are appropriate standards in place. The coalition fully supports a voluntaty accreditation scheme, but we strongly oppose attempts to link it to fee relief.

Government Accreditation system has not been developed because of parental discontent with owners or standards of child care, but is a product of a pre-election agreement between the Government and the ACTU, who reluctantly agreed to an extension of fee relief to private sector child care centres on condition that the Government introduce the accreditation system and yet another layer of bureaucracy.

This scheme is certainly not in the best interests of parents or their children. Accreditation will make the overall cost of providing child care more expensive - and we all know who will have to pay for that - parents. The Government has persistently and consistently refused to publish any cost, estimate for the Accreditation proposal or refute independent estimates that Accreditation will lead to fee increases of up to $50/week.

THE COALITION The Coalition have long recognised the need for parents to have access to quality, affordable and easily accessible child care. It was the McMahon Government which introduced the first child care bill in 1972.

Concerned about the adequacy and coverage of ‘he Government's existing child care arrangements, we are examining options to provide a suitable system of support for a targeted range of Australians. Our policy will ensure relief is equitably targeted and distributed. An additional $90 million has been allocated to child care as a means of helping to reduce child care costs and this is on top of the one billion dollars that has been made available to families plus generous tax cuts under Fightback!

SUPERANNUATION With the aging of Australia's population we are all being encouraged to provide for ourselves in retirement. It is no longer sufficient to believe that the Government will be able to support us adequately in retirement.

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Given that women constitute the majority of the aged population and projections indicate that this pattern is likely to continue, the establishment of a suitable retirement incomes policy for us is vital.

However, at the moment, our needs are ignored in this area. This is reflected in the fact that only one in four female employees are covered by superannuation, compared with nearly half of all male employees. A study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which was released in 1990, found that women are less likely to provide for themselves in retirement.

Indeed, a survey conducted (by Professor Linda Rosenman and Dr Sharon Winocur, 'Australian Women and Economic Security') by the University of Queensland found similar results. They found that only 35% of employed women respondents, that is only 15% of all women, had some form of superannuation. The reasons why women

in the survey were not taking up superannuation was because they were ineligible on age or work status grounds or because it was too expensive, not portable and was unsuitable for women who moved in and out of the paid workforce.

The survey also found that women without personal superannuation would be disadvantaged in the event of a marriage breakdown. It found that while 62% of divorced and separated women were dependent on some sort of government pension or benefit, only 23% of married women were in this position.

It is little wonder that Australian women are concerned about the lack of

opportunities available to them to plan for financial security. The current superannuation system is failing Australian women. We need a superannuation system which is more responsive to our workforce patterns and which takes into account the fact that a significant number do not work in paid employment full time or at all during some stage in their lives.

The Government's recent changes to superannuation have not reflected an understanding of the different working patterns of women and the different needs of women to men in this area. Instead, the changes perpetuate the problems where women in the unpaid workforce are discriminated against and not allowed to contribute to a superannuation fund. Women are once again being denied the

opportunity to live their lives as they choose.

In their decision, the Government has completely ignored the well known fact that almost all women will have broken workforce patterns - leaving the workforce, at some stage, to either raise a family or to care for an older family member. While

they are absent from paid employment they will- not be allowed to contribute to a superannuation fund.

For the other 30% of women between 20 and 55 who are not in paid employment, the Government has given them no hope at all of a retirement income. The Government seems content to accept the argument that somehow women in the unpaid workforce are not deserving of access to superannuation.

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UNDER THE COALITION In contrast, the Opposition's Fightback! plan gives all women a chance to have retirement security.

Changes to superannuation under the Coalition include: * abolish lump sum tax on superannuation * cutting out double dipping * raising the preservation age to 60 years, over a ten year period * gradually aligning the age pension age for men and women * encouraging employees to contribute to the cost of their own retirement * allowing part time and casual employees to have access to low cost alternative superannuation arrangements

* abolishing compulsory retirement age * providing deferred pensions * allowing women outside the paid workforce to have access to superannuation funds.

The Coalition will introduce a uniform tax concession for contributions built around a 25% rebate on up to $6000 a year. Those with spouses or partners will be able to double the contribution with the same rebate entitlement. So, for the first time the family unit will be able to build for retirement income security · a married couple will

be able to contribute up to $12,000 a year.

The Coalition believes that there is absolutely no reason why those 48% of women who are not in the paid workforce should be unable to contribute to superannuation funds in their own name or have others do so on tlv*.ir behalf.

All women, no matter whether they are working in the home, or have part time or casual employment will be given the opportunity to save for their retirement, under the Coalition. These saving opportunities, or Retirement Savings Accounts will be available from banks and building societies thereby extending the range of savings

options available to women. Spouses or partners may contribute to these savings account, which will be in the woman's name and which remain the property of the woman.

The spouse/partner will receive a tax refund for contributions to the Retirement Savings Account up to a maximum of $1,500 in addition to the $1,500 refund available for their own superannuation contributions - of a maximum contribution of $6000 a year. That means, a maximum rebateable contribution can be made by

married/defacto couples of up to $12,000 per annum.

The Coalition's changes to superannuation are a breakthrough for women because they recognise the value of their unpaid work and the fact that women need to have a decent standard of living in their retirement.

Another major benefit for women is that undei Fightbackl older women who have returned to the workforce will be able to make "catch up" contributions to their superannuation fund. Women aged 45 and over who make a "once-off payment up to a maximum of $30,000 in one year will be able to claim a maximum rebate of

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$7,500. This could be very useful for those who may have inherited or received on divorce a lump sum which could be used to increase the value of their superannuation fund which might otherwise never be very significant.

Young Australian women under 35 will have the opportunity to borrow against 75% of their accumulated savings to put towards the cost of their first home loan.

Contributors to superannuation schemes will be able to select the fund of their choice and transfer to another fund if they are not satisfied with their performance, It will be illegal for industrial awards to require contributions to be compulsorily placed in union sponsored industry funds.

The essence of the Coalition's approach to superannuation is flexibility and equity. Our superannuation policy has been moulded to take into account people's different needs and income levels during different stages of their lives. This will allow people to regulate their own affairs and determine their own priorities. It is fair and for the first time "female-friendly".

UNDER THE AWARD SYSTEM in 1921 M r Justice Powers, of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, said "it is better in the interests of the community generally that men who are called upon to support wives and children should be employed at work suitable for them and that girls and women should not be tempted to take up men's work in factories and workshops".

Times have certainly changed since that statement was made. Women today arc virtually free to enter any profession or field that they desire. However, there are still impediments which see women lagging behind men, earning less than they do, and doing more unpaid work. A major cause of this earnings gap is the departure of

women from the workforce to bear and raise children. This departure affects women's earnings capacity because their "work" skills are not constantly in use or constantly being updated.

They can become out of touch with what is happening in the workplace and their skills become outdated. This, together with the different compatibility of jobs with child rearing affects the kinds of occupations they chose, and the amount and type of training in which they are willing to invest - often leaving them on a considerably lower wage than before they left the workforce.

In Australia, these problems are compounded, rather than alleviated, by our rigid industrial relation's system. It works against women because it prevents them from organising work arrangements in a way that suits their particular needs.

Women have said to me on numerous occasions - I would like to work, but not full time. Why can't it be organised so there is say a six day week - split the shifts in half - and have two women working three days each. What is needed in Australia is a flexible approach to working arrangements. Such an approach would benefit women

and help them maintain their skills levels and reduce the skill's gap when they want to re-enter the workforce full time at a later stage.

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Under a CcvaYition Government we will have a flexible approach.

ENTERPRISE BARGAINING U nder the Coalition's industrial relation's policy employees, either on their own or with the help of a workplace committee, their union or alternative advocate, will be able to negotiate with employers the terms of their employment.

Women will be able to negotiate fur flexible working hours, part -time work, family leave days to care for ill children, job sharing, or for child care needs. Women will be able to negotiate different working arrangements to suit the different stages in their lives.

To give a couple of examples - an employee with children at school may be wanting to work shorter hours, with a reduced income so she can be home after 3 pm when the children come home from school. While another employee may want to negotiate with her employer for a package which includes some assistance with child care; or a package which emphasises superannuation.

The Coalition will put in place a safety net which stipulates a level of minimum wage, expressed as an hourly rate, with minimum provisions for long service leave, maternity leave, and sick leave, plus occupational health and safety standards. Further women

will have the right to remain in the centralised system if they prefer. Women will not be forced to become a member of a union - on the other hand, if they want to be a member there will be nothing preventing them from doing so.

One of the direct benefits of a system of workplace agreements is that it will provide employers and employees with the opportunity to work together and to develop their own solutions to their own particular problems. In this way, it will help to foster closer, cooperative workplace relationships and facilitate greater job satisfaction amongst employees as they become more involved in management and exercise greater control over their own working environment.

For women, the ability to be able to vary the terms and conditions of employment will have positive impact - as they will have greater freedom to be able to live their lives as they see fit and to make work arrangements that suit their lifestyle/family relationships and commitments. -

I am definitely not one who claims that women are weak, or inexperienced, or unable to fend for themselves, or are incapable of negotiating the terms of their own employment. Women have in their ordinary, day to day lives extraordinary organisational, communication and management skills of people, of time and of finances. What they need is the opportunity to enable them to use these skills to make decisions affecting their own working lives.

NEW ZEALAND One only has to look across the Tasman to see a number of benefits in flexibility and opportunity that have arisen out of their reforms.

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Some examples of the kind of changes achieved are: * a major Bank has offered a large number of additional part time jobs to women who do not want to work full time, but welcome the chance to work 20 hours a week and still be home when the children return home from school.

* employees from another company which operates seasonally have traditionally experienced long hours and high earnings at the height of the season, with reduced or no hours and earnings in the low season. A new contract arrangement guarantees a consistent wage throughout the year and has improved the ability of employer and employees to plan effectively.

As New Zealand economic consultant Penelope Brook said in her book, 'T he inequity of Pay Equity” - "reforming labour law to give women the freedom to form their own unions, or to join any union prepared to pursue their interest, or to negotiate directly with employers, would go a long way towards reducing discrimination in employment - and raising women's income”.

Contrary to myths spread in Australia wages have not fallen in New Zealand. On the contrary, provisional figures (Feb 1992) from the Department of Statistics in New Zealand show: * an annual increase of 2.8% in average ordinary lime hourly earnings; and

* an annual rise in total AWE of $16.51 (or 2.9%).

In New Zealand, both business and consumer confidence have risen significantly, the level of exports have increased, the economy is growing, their level of competitiveness has improved and inflation is less than 1 per cent; while their competitiveness is at its best level in 30 years and its manufacturers are 20 to 30% more competitive than Australian manufacturers.

In contrast, Australia is still languishing in the depths of recession, with extremely poor international competitiveness and low business and consumer confidence levels, and will for some time to come - unless we implement the types of reforms in Fightback! that will restore opportunity to all, but especially to women.

CONCLUSION The future economic options for women are clear. They have a choice between a coordinated set of policies which plan for a future and a better way of life for all Australians, that is Fightback!, or policies which will continue to see our standard of living decline and therefore our ability to chose, diminish.

The Coalition will provide the opportunity for choice. We will restore the decision making to individuals and it is then a matter of personal choice and up to the individuals to accept responsibility for that choice.