Chapter 1


The Senate Select Committee on Work and Care (committee) was appointed by resolution of the Senate on 3 August 2022, to inquire into and report on the following matters:
the extent and nature of the combination of work and care across Australia and the impact of changes in demographic and labour force patterns on work-care arrangements in recent decades;
the impact of combining various types of work and care (including of children, the aged, those with disability) upon the well-being of workers, carers and those they care for;
the adequacy of workplace laws in relation to work and care and proposals for reform;
the adequacy of current work and care supports, systems, legislation and other relevant policies across Australian workplaces and society;
consideration of the impact on work and care of different hours and conditions of work, job security, work flexibility and related workplace arrangements;
the impact and lessons arising from the COVID-19 crisis for Australia’s system of work and care;
consideration of gendered, regional and socio-economic differences in experience and in potential responses including for First Nations working carers, and potential workers;
consideration of differences in experience of disabled people, workers who support them, and those who undertake informal caring roles;
consideration of the policies, practices and support services that have been most effective in supporting the combination of work and care in Australia, and overseas; and
any related matters.1

Conduct of the inquiry

Details of the inquiry were made available on the committee’s webpage and the committee invited organisations, key stakeholders and individuals to provide submissions.2 The committee issued several media releases calling for submissions—including after the National Jobs and Skills Summit (Summit).
To date, the committee has published 110 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1 of this report. The committee has thus far held the following public hearings for the inquiry:
16 September 2022 in Canberra;
20 September 2022 in Melbourne;
21 September 2022 in Sydney; and
7 October 2022 in Canberra.
The committee will hold further public hearings as it continues its work. A list of witnesses who gave evidence at the above hearings is available at Appendix 2 of this report.


The committee thanks all those who have thus far contributed to the inquiry by making submissions, providing additional information, and appearing at public hearings.
The committee is particularly grateful to all those who have trusted the committee with their personal stories and examples of where the work and care framework has let them down. Your contributions have made a real impact on the committee and helped it to better understand the lived experience of those with work and care responsibilities.

The work of the committee

The committee has been tasked with investigating the ways in which caring responsibilities can be combined with participation in the labour market, to create better outcomes for working carers, the people they care for and their families—as well as for the Australian economy.
The committee appreciates that the experience of working carers varies widely across the country. The experience of balancing work and care is impacted by geography and access to resources, and by income, health, family circumstances and the nature of a local community.
The recent Summit made the case for change and highlighted the need for fair and productive workplaces, with adequate pay, job security and proper support for those with work and care responsibilities.3
In addition to considering the compelling evidence received as part of its inquiry—including evidence from people with a lived experience of being a working carer—the committee will build on the ideas and momentum for reform that emerged from the Summit, aimed at reducing barriers to carerfriendly workplaces.
The committee will put forward practical and actionable solutions to improve the lives of working carers, based on the valuable contributions made to this inquiry by a wide variety of stakeholders.

Interim and final reports

The purpose of this interim report is to outline the current context and reality for working carers, and to explain the legislative framework and current supporting arrangements for those negotiating work and care responsibilities across Australia.
This report will conclude by putting forward the committee’s views and recommendations in key areas where immediate reform is needed. This includes the workplace relations system, the lifting of wages in the care sector, and the imbedding of flexibility in the employment framework.
As the committee progresses its work, it will continue to gather evidence, examine the issues in greater detail and determine how to best implement further reform in the key areas identified by this interim report—reforms which will best support workers, carers and those they care for, and employers.
This interim report is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of the evidence received by the committee to date. The committee will provide a more detailed analysis after it has received further evidence and conducted focused hearings.
The committee’s final report will then detail the evidence received throughout this inquiry and put forward recommendations for improving work and care arrangements. This may include improving support systems and workplace flexibility, and making legislative and regulatory change to ensure work and care policies and practices are inclusive, supportive and fitforpurpose into the future. Support systems also need to be implemented to enable carers to effectively transition into—or back into—the workforce.
The committee will make recommendations on areas where change can be implemented in the near future, alongside more long-term and structural changes to create carer-friendly work environments.

Report structure

This chapter explains what is meant by ‘working carers’ and details some of the social and economic impacts of informal care.
The second chapter will outline the current context and reality for working carers in Australia, presenting data on who is a working carer, and the impact of caring on labour market participation—especially due to gender.
The third chapter looks at balancing work and care in the paid care system, with a specific focus on child care. It examines issues such as insufficient wages and workforce shortages, and the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) framework. It also looks at the unique context of ECEC in First Nations communities.
The fourth chapter outlines the income support programs in place to support those who reduce working hours or withdraw from employment to take on caring responsibilities, and the impact of activity tests and other barriers on accessing support.
Chapter 5 provides information on the workplace relations and legal framework applicable to working carers, including leave entitlements and the adequacy of existing mechanisms which facilitate flexible working arrangements. It also considers the operation of paid and unpaid parental leave and how similar leave entitlements operate in other jurisdictions.
Chapter 6 puts forward the committee’s views and recommendations in several areas where reform could be implemented now, with immediate benefit to working carers and the community. The chapter also summarises the key issues which have been presented to the committee about balancing care and work, which will be examined in greater detail in the committee’s final report.

Work and care

Working carers

Working carers are people who combine informal care responsibilities with paid employment in a full-time, part-time, or casual capacity.
At some stage in their lives, most Australians will provide care to a child, relative or close associate living with disability, chronic illness or an older person.4 Around one in eight working-age Australians (aged 16 to 65) are currently informal carers, and it has been estimated that between three to four per cent of Australian employees become informal carers each year.5
Informal carers ‘provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends’ and are distinct from those employed to provide care services.6 Informal carers are ‘integral’ to Australia’s care system and their care complements, and at times substitutes, for formal care supports.7 While informal care is widespread and highly valuable, most of that care is unpaid.8

Balancing work and care

The interface between work and care is complex and impacted by a range of factors including: the accessibility of healthcare, child care, age and disability support services; geographical location and community support; cost of living pressures, including affordable housing options; workplace gender inequalities; and access to workplace flexibility provisions.
Balancing informal care, including unpaid domestic work, with paid employment exposes carers to an increased risk of job insecurity and the associated financial impacts of working less, or working lower paid and/or less secure positions. There is also a gendered impact on work and care responsibilities, with women predominantly in caring roles—especially when it comes to child care.
The hours of care provided by informal carers can be a significant burden and, for many carers, reduces their capacity to work or forces them to withdraw from the workforce altogether.
Informal carers also face significant barriers to workforce participation. Women’s workforce participation is greatly impacted by informal caring roles and time out of the labour market, particularly to care for children or older parents. Carers Australia notes that carers are significantly less likely to be employed than other Australians, particularly if the carer is older or has high caring obligations.9
It is clear from the evidence which follows in this report—and it has been known for some time—that the combination of work and care and the inadequate workplace relations framework around it is impacting on people and their quality of life, their financial security, the labour force and the economy across Australia.

The economic and social impact of informal care

Around 67 per cent of informal carers are engaged in paid employment,10 yet their capacity to work is a complex nexus. Data provided by Carers NSW indicates that informal carers balance an average of 55 hours of care and 28 hours of paid work per week.11
Evidence received by the committee highlights how informal carers’ ability to work is intertwined with access to healthcare, disability supports and childcare, access to affordable housing, labour market structures, particularly workplace laws and flexibility arrangements, and job security.
Current work and care settings in Australia contribute to the social and economic disadvantages experienced by carers.12 Underinvestment and undervaluation of paid care supports exacerbates the burden of care for many informal carers.13
Due to the barriers faced by informal carers, carers’ workforce participation is marred by deep inequities. Carers do less paid work on average than noncarers and, in some cases, carers are forced to withdraw from the workforce entirely.14 On average, informal carers will be paid significantly less over the course of their working lives and will retire with far less superannuation.15
People in caring roles experience a range of other significant disadvantages, often in combination, including high rates of poor health, disability and poor social connectivity.16 Informal carers who provide more care are disproportionately impacted, particularly women who provide substantially more unpaid care on average than men, and carers who are older and/or carers who care for people who require high levels of assistance.17 Unpaid caring responsibilities ‘are a major driver of gender inequality in Australia’,18 with a significant impact on the gender division in work and national productivity levels.
Recent modelling indicates that, in 2020, over 2.2 billion hours of informal care were provided to people with disability, chronic illness or an older person which, if paid, would have cost nearly $78 billion.19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the extent of informal care increased as carers backfilled for the reduced availability of paid supports.20 Women were disproportionately impacted as they ‘carried the main burden of care work during COVID-19’,21 and accounted for three in five of the jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic.22
In the years ahead, structural shifts in demographics and the changing nature of work are likely to strain Australia’s work and care system. A significant increase in the age of Australia’s population, for example, is expected to increase the demand for informal and formal care while reducing the proportion of working-age Australians. Given these headwinds, the committee is deeply concerned that Australia’s work and care architecture is insufficient to meet future increased caring demands.
Conversely, improving care systems and formal supports has the potential to boost informal carers’ labour force participation and improve the balance between work and care.23

Outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit

The Summit laid out priorities for immediate action, but also for further work and future action. Of importance to the committee’s work are the following outcomes of the Summit and existing government commitments, which the committee will monitor as it continues its work.24
For immediate action:
updating the Fair Work Act 2009 (Fair Work Act) to create a ‘simple, flexible and fair new framework’ by removing unnecessary complexity; ensuring all workers and businesses can negotiate in good faith and have flexible options for reaching agreements; and
updating the Fair Work Act to provide stronger access to flexible working arrangements and unpaid parental leave so families can share work and caring responsibilities.
Areas for further work:
amending relevant legislation to give workers the right to challenge unfair contractual terms;
initiating a detailed consultation and research process on the concept of a living wage, reporting back in late 2023;
initiating a detailed consultation and research process considering the impact of workplace relations settings (such as rostering arrangements) on work and care, including child care;
considering possible improvements to Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards (NES);
developing through National Cabinet a long-term vision for early childhood education and care reform to better support parents’ workforce participation as a national priority; and
working with the childhood education sector and philanthropic foundations to create a whole of government approach to improve early childhood development and education.
Existing commitments:
including gender pay equity and job security in the objects of the Fair Work Act;
establishing a Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce to provide independent advice and inform the National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality;
increasing the Child Care Subsidy rates from July 2023 and raising the maximum family income threshold; and
supporting and, if successful, providing funding to support increases to award wages for aged care workers through the Australian Government’s submission at the Fair Work Commission.

Other relevant inquiries

Other inquiries of direct relevance and consequence to the committee are currently underway or will commence soon, as discussed below.

Productivity Commission – Carer leave

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found that the aged care system fails to adequately support informal carers. In February 2022 and due to the Royal Commission’s findings, then Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, requested that the Productivity Commission (PC) inquiry into:
the potential impact of amending the National Employment Standards (NES)25 to extend unpaid carers leave for national system employees who are providing informal care to older people who are frail and living at home; and
the economic and social costs and benefits from any changes to the Standards, including the impact on residential aged care services and broader net impact on the economy.26
As part of its inquiry, the PC will:
… examine how the entitlement would affect the behaviour of carers, older people, and employers, its overall and distributional effects on the welfare of these groups, and how it might affect government budgets. It will also assess the adequacy of the existing leave provisions in the NES for informal carers and consider how the proposed entitlement could be designed.27
The PC is due to release a draft report in February 2023, with a final report to be handed to the Australian Government in May 2023.

ACCC—cost of child care

On 21 September 2022, the Minister for Education, the Hon Jason Clare MP, announced an inquiry into the rising cost of child care in Australia, to be conducted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The 12-month inquiry will commence in January 2023 and will examine the ‘driving factors behind rising childcare costs and out-of-pocket expenses and will make recommendations to the government on ways to ease pressure on families’.28
In announcing the inquiry, the Minister for Education noted the impact of child care costs on people balancing work and child care responsibilities, saying that:
At the moment about 60 per cent of mothers of children under six who work, do part-time hours. A lot of Australians would want to work more, but if they did all of that pay would be gobbled up by the childcare bill. It means it’s not worth it.29

The Employment White Paper

The Australian Government is currently seeking submissions for its Employment White Paper, due to be released by the end of September 2023. The White Paper aims to build on the findings of the Jobs and Skills Summit, to ‘provide a roadmap for Australia to build a bigger, better-trained and more productive workforce’.30
Of relevance to this inquiry, the White Paper will examine, among other things:
the future of work and labour market implications of structural change, with a focus on:
building a sustainable care economy in the context of an ageing population and other drivers of demand for care services;
the transformation associated with digitalisation and emerging technologies;
job security, fair pay and conditions, including the role of workplace relations;
pay equity, including the gender pay gap, equal opportunities for women and the benefits of a more inclusive workforce;
labour force participation, labour supply and improving employment opportunities, including:
reducing barriers and disincentives to work, including the role of childcare, social security settings and employment services;
improving labour market outcomes for those who face challenges in employment, including First Nations people, those who live in rural and remote areas, younger and older Australians, people with disability, and those who may experience discrimination;
skills, education and training, upskilling and reskilling, including in transitioning sectors and regions; and
migration settings as a complement to the domestic workforce.31
Submissions to the White Paper close at the end of November 2022. The committee looks forward to reviewing the proposals put forward to the Government, given the alignment between the White Paper’s terms of reference and its own.

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