Working Life
Time To Care campaign image

The cost of caring


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We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
By Eleni Hale

ACTU media officer

Thursday, 28 February 2013

WOMEN continue to be propelled into insecure work as many employers fail to modernise their approach by offering flexible hours to staff with family responsibilities.

Unions are concerned that a lack of compromise and forward thinking is pushing many women into work where they earn less and don’t have security or leave entitlements.

ACTU President, Ged Kearney says gender discrimination is alive and well in Australia and action is needed to protect pregnant women, mothers and those caring for disabled and the elderly.

“Women are much more likely to be the ones who are forced to forfeit careers and stay at home with children,” she says. “They are also the ones who usually cut back on work to look after elderly parents. What we see is that women have less super saved for retirement, earn less over their lifetime and are much, much less likely than men to hold senior company positions. You could say caring costs women a hell of a lot.”

Research shows that women on average earn $1 million less over a lifetime compared to men.

Unions have welcomed the Government’s recent ‘right to request’ announcements.

“Women and men have to be able to say to their employer, ‘I need time to care and time to work and I need you to genuinely consider my request for flexibility in my hours so I can do both’,” says Kearney.

This issue is a personal one for many women. Many women find it difficult to talk about this publically as it can jeopardise their employment prospects.

One woman (who asked not to be named) says: “Being a carer for my elderly mother, I need to take time off regularly. I find employers say they understand but in the long term they just see you as a burden.”

Another was forced to resign. “I asked my employer (if I could) return to work from maternity leave for four days a week and one day working from home, I was told there was nothing for me…there was no other option but to resign,” she says.

When it comes to balancing work and family responsibilities,  it often seems like two steps forward, and one step back.
Last year, when Melissa Mayer was appointed CEO of the internet giant Yahoo! and also announced at the same time that she was pregnant, there was widespread acclaim that we seemed to have entered a new, enlightened era.
Unfortunately, it proved shortlived. Mayer took only two weeks off work after having her baby in September, and this week, in a controversial staff memo, banned all Yahoo! employees from working from home to balance their caring responsibilities. Predictably, it has created a storm and sparked a new round of debate about how to balance work and family responsibilities in the modern era.

However, not all employers are stuck in the yesteryear. Blogger Bub Hub, said he has seen some big changes in his workplace.

“I have known a number of senior law firm partners who were dead-set against part time employees, [but] were pleasantly surprised and openly admitted that they were wrong and that they could now see how well it could work,” he says.

Research shows that those who find a way to accommodate the changing needs of the modern family reap real rewards as people, not only appreciate the flexibility they are offered but, find that now they are a carer they are much more reliant on that employment.

Kearney says what is needed is a reasonable approach.

“Consider your business model and whether there are changes that could be made that would allow flexible, yet secure, working arrangements for women,” she says.

“Who knows, you might find your staff appreciate this so much they work harder for you.”

Australia can afford to do better – we should be a country where working carers:

•  can ask for a change in start/finish times, part-time work or job sharing, or to work more hours over fewer days, or work from home
•  have these requests genuinely considered by their employer
•  a right to an appeal if an employer unreasonably refuses a request for a change

Have your say. Comment below and tell us more about your workplace and how it could be made more family friendly.

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. coticod
    Thursday, 28 February, 2013 at 5:36 pm · Reply

    I’m so glad you guys are onto this issue. Everyone said this was a “BBQ stopper” but so far, not enough bosses have changed their attitudes to people who work and care for their family members. The world has changed, and so should they!

  2. Thursday, 28 February, 2013 at 8:35 pm · Reply

    Working women just have to have more options than accepting insecure work at lower pay as the price of wanting to be a good mum and employee. Good on the unions for taking this up.

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