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Thursday, 9 March 2023
Page: 79

Senator BARBARA POCOCK (South Australia) (15:43): It is my pleasure to present the final report of the Select Committee on Work and Care, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and accompanying documents presented to the committee. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Over the past eight months, I've chaired this committee working with my colleagues, Deputy Chair Senator O'Neill and Senators White, Stewart, Askew, Bragg, and Ruston. Together, we have looked at how Australians put together their jobs with the care of others. We've been ably assisted by the Senate's committee secretariat led by Jane Thomson. You all serve the Australian Senate and public so well. Thank you for your work. I give particular thanks to the 125 organisations and individuals who wrote submissions and appeared at our 11 days of public hearings. It has been a fascinating privilege to hear directly from employers, workers, unions, community organisations and carers around the country what is happening out there in the land of the working carer.

We offer the Senate a majority report. The great deal of agreement around the evidence of this inquiry reflects the power of what we have heard. It was consistent. It was convincing. I believe the level of agreement also reflects the fact we committee members live the realities affecting so many other Australians. We've done this work around the birth of Senator Stewart's baby, Ari; with grandchildren at our knees; with our kids in the next room; and amidst the usual raft of family crises—in short, normal, juggling, working life.

In this way we're part of a changed parliament that shares the changing work and care circumstances of other Australians. It's very different from the parliament of a century ago that set the terms of work for working carers last century. Things like the eight-hour day—the norm of full-time work. At that time this parliament was entirely made up of men. That affected the shape of the labour laws that they wrote. The slow entry of women to this place explains why we did not get any Commonwealth child care until 1973 and did not give working women a paid break after they had a baby until 2011, a hundred years after the ILO said it was a reasonable proposition. Today, around 6.5 million women hold jobs and half our workforce is female. Many of them are also carers. Women now make up 57 per cent of the Senate. This is a changed parliament in a changed world, and it's time for our working arrangements to reflect this.

The powerful evidence we've heard explains our committee's agreement that we need to create better work and care arrangements that deliver greater fairness and equality. It's time for a new, comprehensive and integrated approach to our work and care challenges. Enough with the piecemeal; it's time for a coordinated national effort and for all levels of government to work together to deliver it.

On any day of the week now, four in 10 Australian workers have caring responsibilities while they are at work. Most of us, over the course of our lives, will care for somebody. We're living a 21st century juggle. but we're awaiting a 21st century support system as we deal with this new reality. Too many experience time poverty, unpredictable hours and inflexible work. They feel the costs of this juggle in their household budgets, especially as inflation and the costs of care rise.

We urgently need a new work and care regime appropriate to the 21st century: one that does not rely on the individual adaptations of hyperflexible, often overloaded workers who are also parents and carers; one that ensures secure, predictable hours and pay; one that makes the most of new technologies whilst allowing workers to knock off when their hours are done; and one that supports parents of babies to take adequate leave at birth, at the international standard of 52 weeks, and to access the quality, affordable early childhood education and care so essential to our kids and appropriate to a rich OECD nation—care that should be free, in the view of the Greens. We need a regime that does not run the labour market on the stress and sweat of a juggling worker or make the price of being both a worker and a carer a lifetime of low pay, insecurity, part-time work and poverty in retirement.

Our report calls for more recognition of the work of carers at home. The unpaid care by Australians looking after older parents or friends or for disabled people amounts to $77 billion a year. Unpaid work, including that of parents, if you value it, adds up to half the value of Australia's GDP, yet many of these carers are living well below the poverty line.

The effects of a work-life collision do not fall evenly. While they specially affect women, they also fall on so many young people caring for family members as they try to get to school or to a job, immigrant workers who cannot get access to decent work or afford care and make up a large proportion of our low-paid care workforce, First Nations communities who need culturally appropriate child care but can't find it, low-income households who struggle to pay for care, disabled people and their families who would like to see a transition away from low-paying disability enterprises into open employment, and the growing number of workers who are caring for an ageing parent but cannot find respite to take the pressure off.

And it's time for a pay rise for care workers in child care, aged care and disability care. Their work is undervalued, and it doesn't reward their experience and their qualifications. We're seeing the very direct consequences of that today, with news reports of shortfalls of thousands of aged-care workers in a care workforce crisis.

It's plain that we need to increase job security for many workers in our labour market. The most common strategy adopted by Australian working carers, part-time work, has left many women facing insecure jobs, insecure hours and pay, poor career paths, lack of access to training and, ironically, loss of key conditions for working carers, like access to paid sick leave and paid holidays, long service leave and decent superannuation. At the other end of the hours spectrum, a sizeable proportion of men—one-quarter—work long hours. So at one end, women on short hours; at the other end, men on long hours. These arrangements cast long shadows. Too many senior jobs in areas like management have hours that are hostile to care and are therefore off limits to so many women. This also means that domestic work is off limits to those men, which loads up their partners. And all of this feeds into the gender pay gap.

Amongst the biggest surprises to the committee, in my view, was evidence of widespread unpredictable rosters and working hours. These conditions mean workers are too often at their employers' beck and call. Alongside this, new technologies that have brought welcome flexibility have also stretched the working day out alongside paid work, making it too hard for people to disconnect from their technologies at the end of the day. Our phones compete with our kids, and then get in the way of our rest and recuperation, so it's time that workers had a right to disconnect from work.

We know that without the care provided by workers and unpaid carers at home we are all impoverished. Without it, there is no future labour supply and simply no economy. We heard powerful evidence about the importance of doing things better. If we can lift the employment participation of carers—mostly women—to reach the rates in countries that offer better paid parental leave and child care, for example, we could increase our workforce participation rate, on average, by four per cent. And we heard evidence that it would boost our GDP by $100 billion. Now, some will point to the cost of doing these things, but they ignore that return on investment, and underinvestment in care means labour shortages, gender inequality and more stress for workers, especially women.

We in the Greens believe this is a crisis that needs an urgent response. Our workforce and our community deserve it, and as a rich OECD country we can afford it. We blow billions a year on super tax breaks that deliver very little for carers or workers in our care industries. The government is looking at giving one-quarter of $1 trillion in stage 3 tax cuts to the very wealthy. This could fund all that we recommend in this report and leave plenty of change. These are political choices. It does not have to be like this. What we do right now matters. Other countries do things differently and we can too. The work arrangements of last century gave Australians a right to work. In the 21st century, it's time for a right to both work and care.

I commend this report to the Senate. I hope it will create momentum for the change that so many Australians are looking for. I thank my fellow senators for their hard work and their collegiality. Thank you.