Title Select Committee on Work and Care
Database Senate Committees
Date 16-09-2022
Source Senate
Parl No. 47
Committee Name Select Committee on Work and Care
Page 48
Questioner Bragg, Sen Andrew
White, Sen Linda
Responder CHAIR
Mrs Boyd
System Id committees/commsen/26043/0007

Select Committee on Work and Care - 16/09/2022

BOYD, Mrs Alexi, Chief Executive Officer, Council of Small Business Organisations Australia [by video link]


CHAIR: Without further ado, I now welcome via teleconference Mrs Alexi Boyd of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia. Mrs Boyd, would you like to make a short opening statement before I invite members of the committee to ask you some questions?

Mrs Boyd : Good afternoon, Chair, and thank you very much for the opportunity for COSBOA to offer a statement. As an introduction, COSBOA is the peak body for small businesses, and through our membership of industry associations we represent hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country. In producing this statement, we engaged with a number of our members. We had the Australian Hairdressing Council, the Australian Retailers Association and the Myotherapy Association Australia, and we consulted with a number of other members in relation to work and care.

When it comes to work and care, what we'd like to highlight in today's statement is the perspective of not only the small-business owner but their employees, and their need for flexibility within the system. Importantly, when it comes to female business owners, it's important that the flexibility is there with consideration for them as small-business owners themselves, and that any opportunities that are available to employees can be equally accessed by small-business owners. In particular, we sought information from female-centric industries, simply because they have a good understanding of what it means for female carers to re-enter the workforce, and because they have experience in those situations, with a highly casualised workforce. For example, as a small-business owner returning to work, you often have to return earlier because, as the business owner, if you don't work you don't earn money. You also need to be present to support your staff and keep the continuity of your staff going, as the need arises, when you return to work. Many of our members were saying that, as female-centric small-business owners, there was more of an impetus for them to return to work earlier.

Paid parental leave has been helpful to support those who are sole traders, so that's always very beneficial. But the limitations on small-business owners being able to return and be productive in their own workplaces is evident not only because of a lack of accessibility, which many people in the community experience for child care, but also because of the need for before- and after-school care. When we spoke to our members, that was actually a very important point that they wanted to highlight. As a small-business owner, if you are in a caring capacity for children, in particular, and you have to do the school drop-off and pick-up, you could be limited to maybe 4½ to five hours of work a day. That's a pretty significant hit on what might be a normal workday for you. So there's the importance of having accessibility not only to child care for early learning but also to before- and after-school care, particularly for primary-aged kids. That would mean that you'd have a real increase in productivity for small-business owners.

Similarly, the impact in the female-centric industry is quite interesting from the Australian Hairdressing Council's perspective. They recently did a survey of their members and found 70 per cent of the industry are sole traders, and that is increasing. One of the reasons for that is that there's a lack of flexibility in the ability to bring back female workers in their industry, so they feel that it's easier to become a non-employing business. So they stop becoming employers and they go back to being sole traders, and of course that's a contraction of their ability to run a business.

When we spoke to the Australian Retailers Association, they said that many people choose to work in the flexible environment that retail can offer, because they can make their schedules work around their work responsibilities. In many cases it's a choice to work in that industry because of the inherent flexibility. Being a casual worker has its benefits for the employee as well. And, of course, they don't support anything that would make it a requirement or that doesn't have the flexibility working both ways. They are in support of carers leave to maintain connection with the employer. Importantly, what we need to see is an ability for check-ins and for notice to be as easy as possible for both parties.

So what we need are incentives to encourage people to return to the workforce or remain out of the workforce that are flexible and easy to access for both the employees and the employers. I think that connection and that relationship between the employer and the employees at the time when people are returning to work or seeking flexibility is so important. Small-business owners need to retain the autonomy of what happens in their business, but, similarly, there needs to be an open dialogue, but an easy dialogue. If we take, for example, the requirement to fill in workplace flexibility arrangement forms, if you are in a workplace that has people who require that flexibility and they are permanent part-time or full-time staff members, each time there is any change to a roster, these forms need to be filled out over and again, and it can be quite cumbersome and a complex part of record keeping. So is there something in the record keeping that can inherently create an easier process to make those conversations and that flexibility part of the relationship moving forward?

It was important that, when consideration is given for return to work, it's remembered that, if we are encouraging small-business owners—female owned and operated businesses—there is a reminder that the female owners themselves need to be able to access all of the same flexibility arrangements and have the ability to access government support as they would if they were an employee. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. You have given us a lot to chew on. We would look forward to you perhaps putting that material together to provide to us in the form of a submission, if that's possible, afterwards. I hate to create more work for you. Senator Bragg will lead off.

Senator BRAGG: Thank you, Mrs Boyd. I want to take you to your comments around childcare options for small-business people. I hear your comments about before- and after-school care. What proportion of your members do you think would be likely to want to utilise those options?

Mrs Boyd : It's difficult to say. As you're no doubt aware, our members are professional associations and industry associations themselves. We would need to get that information from each of the industries alone. But, from speaking to our associations, what they have said is that, if you are a carer or a parent who is running a business, it can be limiting the hours you can work because you can't access that before- and after-school care as easily as the circumstance because it's just not available in your local school, for instance.

Senator BRAGG: Is there any difference between your need to access before- and after-school care as compared, say, to child care or preschool?

Mrs Boyd : It's more that, in the discussions around caring, before- and after-school care is often missed out. That was what we were endeavouring to highlight—as a small-business owner you can't operate to the maximum capacity. Early childhood care is zero to five. When we're thinking about people returning to work for as many hours as they wish to work, we need to include before and afterschool care in that conversation. It's not necessarily that we're hearing there's more accessibility to child care than before and afterschool care; it's more that it needs to be part of the conversation when returning carers back to work or having that flexibility in the system. Does that make sense?

Senator BRAGG: Yes. There's no particular age group for child care that you're prioritising; is that right?

Mrs Boyd : Essentially, yes. It's about ensuring that we're not talking just about the first five years of a child's life but also beyond that. If you are dually responsible for running a business and also looking after a household, and you don't have access to that, it's going to limit your ability to work. Have I answered your question?

Senator BRAGG: Yes. Do you or your members have any views about the efficiency and productivity of the current childcare system for early childhood care?

Mrs Boyd : When we spoke to our members they particularly highlighted concerns around regional areas that are known colloquially as childcare deserts. That can be a limiting factor in being able to run a business and being able to work at maximum capacity. When we talked about accessibility, our members immediately spoke of small businesses in regional areas who can't access child care or afterschool care at all.

Senator BRAGG: That's a comment about access in the regions rather than any particular critique of the scheme, isn't it?

Mrs Boyd : There was no critique of the scheme.

Senator BRAGG: Would you be able to consider whether it would be possible to generate some data from your members about their demand needs for child care? I think it would help us in our deliberations. It's not clear to me how much demand there is from small businesses. My sense of it is that it is going to be easier to justify policy reform if there is a high level of interest and buy-in from your constituency.

Mrs Boyd : I understand, thank you. We'll endeavour to do that. There may be some existing data coming out of some of our members who have already surveyed this. There might be some in existence that we can seek and come back to the committee with. I thank you for that opportunity; we will see whether we can get that information, and we may be able to do a very brief survey of our members directly to ask some broad questions around whether or not they think that there's sufficient—are you speaking in terms of access, or are you speaking about whether or not the system is fit for purpose for small businesses to be able to get the right funding?

Senator BRAGG: It could potentially be those two things, but it's even more basic—it's just about demand. I think there are various perceptions out there—and I'm not tied to any of them—that it's the people who are working in bigger companies or for governments who need access to child care. But, of course, that's a complete misnomer. I think you've brought a valuable perspective.

Mrs Boyd : Thank you. I'll take that away, and we will find out some more information from our members to see if there are any statistics they have so we can speak more broadly as to whether the demand is there. I would say, from the conversations that we've had with our members, the moment we speak about female-centred businesses or even a family businesses the question is: how do you do that when both of the people are working within the business? If they don't have access to child care or afterschool care then that's going to limit the hours they can work as a family, and their income. That keeps on coming up in conversation when we talk about that. I will endeavour to find that out for you. Thank you for the opportunity.

Senator BRAGG: Thanks, Mrs Boyd. Thanks, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator White.

Senator WHITE: Are there other things that you think came out of the Jobs and Skills Summit that if they come to fruition they're going to help small business owners and their employees balance work and care responsibilities?

Mrs Boyd : I would hope that through a process that enables the businesses to be able to have a clear framework for conversation it can also encapsulate those conversations about returning to work with care responsibilities. We think that enabling a system where small businesses can have those conversations and understand how those conversations should work would be beneficial, yes. It will enable those conversations to happen with a better framework around them and help small businesses to understand what they can and can't do and what their obligations are, for instance—all of that is helpful.

Senator WHITE: You mentioned some business owners deciding to become sole traders rather than employ people. Can you expand on what you see the barriers are and why that has occurred?

Mrs Boyd : Simply with the complexity in the system. This was specifically coming out of the Australian Hairdressing Council. They've seen an increasing number of businesses deciding to become non-employing, because of the complexity and inflexibility of the employment system, say, for example, they—

CHAIR: We seem to have lost our connection. There we go.

Mrs Boyd : both the employees and the employer. I'm sorry. Where did I drop off there?

CHAIR: You were talking about the complexity of the employment system.

Mrs Boyd : Right. Sorry. What we are hearing from the Hairdressing Council in particular is that they're seeing more of their members become sole traders, because of the inflexibility of the system to be able to employ. Part of that is you can't allow someone to do a couple of extra hours here or there, because when you're a carer your needs can change very quickly—with a sick child or for some reason you need to go to an appointment. There's such an inflexibility in the system if someone is permanent part-time or permanent full-time that you can't change rosters without notice and you have to fill out these forms. Over time it becomes harder and harder to employ people. There's no flexibility in the system that allows for an agreement to take place that's good for both parties. People don't really know how to navigate that system, so that they constrict the number of employees they take on, and eventually decide, 'It's just too hard and I think I'll become a sole trader again.'

CHAIR: I have a few questions to build on what we've already covered. You mentioned that paid parental leave had been helpful for your members. Could you expand on that a little? Who has it been helpful to, to the small business owner and to the workers, and in what ways—just to get a picture of how that's been working in small business?

Mrs Boyd : What our members have said is that it's helpful to know that they themselves can be included. It's an example of an opportunity or some government support that hasn't excluded small business owners because they are not an employee. Obviously, if you are a sole trader you're not on payroll. You don't get other benefits. You certainly don't get sick leave or annual leave. This is something that hasn't meant that they were excluded, so there was support for that process. It is still quite a complicated process to engage with, because of the multiple government agencies that are included and the process of engaging with paid parental leave. We hear that from different members. What is pleasing is the fact that this is an example of government support that's not tied with being an employee.

CHAIR: So it's inclusive. I can absolutely see your point there. The OECD average is now heading up towards 50 to 52 weeks of paid parental leave. Do you have any response?

We've certainly received submissions that suggest that it should be increased from the 20 weeks it is at present. What's your view on that and how it would affect small business?

Mrs Boyd : We don't have a specific view. I think it's important that, whatever considerations are made, it's done with a view to understanding the different types of workplaces that small businesses operate in and that good consultation takes place to really understand the impact that would happen in different workplaces and different work circumstances. It's important that in the consultation process it's not treated the same as a big business, for instance, with a big HR department that can handle multiple forms to fill out, and all these different processes—remembering that every single change that happens, happens to the small business owner. They're the ones who need to navigate the system. Many of them can't afford good-quality advisers, or assistants, and they're often doing it themselves. So we would suggest that any change needs to keep that in mind.

CHAIR: You also said, if I heard correctly, that you supported carers leave. Were you talking about unpaid carers leave there? We've heard today from a range of carer organisations about interest in maintaining an attachment to the workplace but being able to take more leave to care for a sick parent or someone with a disability. Can I get a bit of clarity about your thinking regarding unpaid carers leave.

Mrs Boyd : As it stands at the moment, it has its benefits for both the employer and employee. However, any changes to the system would need to take into consideration that if there are any changes, even on a day-to-day basis, that can affect the small business owner's productivity, having to renavigate rosters et cetera. So if we think about people returning to work on a flexible basis, they may be able to do it for a certain number of days after, say, maternity leave. But each time that person returns to the work there is an element of disruption, either to the roster or to the process of the work environment. When you're in a small team it can be disruptive for the team who are working in that environment, not just for the business owner who has to navigate payroll or whatever it is that's required. Any changes, again, need to take into consideration what the impact would be not only from an administrative point of view but as a small team and in that workplace environment.

CHAIR: Another proposition we've heard today from a couple of places has been around separating personal leave from carers leave—the paid personal leave and carers leave. At the moment of course they're together, ten days. I'm wondering what your view is about that. People from carer advocacy organisations who've been speaking are suggesting that, because they're put together, carers can't really get access to their personal leave, and they use it for care of others.

Mrs Boyd : I would need to take that on notice. It's not something that I've spoken specifically to our members about.

CHAIR: Thank you so much for taking the time to appear. We really appreciate your time, and we look forward to your submission within two weeks—if that's possible. We would very much like to take into account the things you've put before us and that you walked us through at the beginning of this session.

Mrs Boyd : That's a pleasure, and I will endeavour to get back to you with the information that I've been asked to get. So, from COSBOA, thank you for the opportunity to be involved.

CHAIR: Assuming there are no other questions or contributions, that concludes today's hearing. I think we've heard a great deal of very rich material today, and very much on point for what this inquiry was set up to discuss. Thank you to all witnesses who appeared, and to Hansard and broadcasting, for your hard work and assistance. The committee has agreed that on questions on notice, of which there have been quite a sizeable number today, we would look forward to responses by 29 September 2022. The committee stands adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 14 : 54