Chapter 3

Balancing work and care in the paid care system

The structure of the paid care system impacts all Australians; it determines the quality of care they, and those they care for, receive. Evidence received by the committee points to existing structural issues impacting Australia’s care system that reduce the effectiveness of key supports in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), and also in aged care and disability support services.
These structural issues are multifaceted and well-established, and the committee will continue to consider these issues as it carries on its work. While this chapter places focus on ECEC, the committee acknowledges that both the aged and disability care sectors face their own unique challenges.
There are entrenched issues with both the paid and unpaid care system, particularly in relation to the gendered nature of the work, the feminisation of the care workforce, the inadequacy of wages in all care sectors, and the current and imminent workforce shortages in care sectors.
In this chapter, the committee considers the structure of the care system and how it impacts on people trying to balance paid work with unpaid care. The interaction of low wages and feminised industries is also highlighted.
While the previous chapter examined ECEC and how parents as carers (and especially women) access that care, this chapter considers ECEC in terms of how it allows working carers to access the workforce and participate in paid employment, and the limitations of the current ECEC framework in encouraging greater workforce participation.

Care and support workforce issues

The care and support system in Australia includes health care, aged care, disability support services, ECEC and social support services.
While the ‘care and support sector is one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing sectors,’1 there are current and acute shortages in the workforce which are projected to worsen. Further, the structure of the care workforce and its associated entitlements (or lack thereof) make it difficult for people balancing work and care to properly engage in paid and secure work in the sector.
Notwithstanding this, the National Skills Commission (NSC) has warned that ‘sustained growth in the care and support workforce is critical to ensuring there is capacity to provide essential services to Australians,’2 noting the demand for workers in the care and support industry is anticipated to grow through to 2050. This is supported by findings of the Treasury, which suggests that by 2050, Australia is projected to experience a ‘shortfall’ of some 286 000 care workers.3
Despite the clear need for more employees in the paid care sector, there are concerns about whether employment in aged, health or other care is properly supported by adequate wages, flexibility, leave entitlements and respect from the broader community around the importance of paid care. These drawbacks are prohibiting people with work and care responsibilities from entering the paid care sector.
Ms Emeline Gaske of the Australian Services Union also spoke to the link between the ‘chronic underinvestment and undervaluation of paid care work’ and the impact of this on people with unpaid care responsibilities. Ms Gaske expanded upon this, saying:
… the lack of respect, the de-professionalisation and the underfunding of care and support work are bad for people doing the work, the majority of whom happen to be women and happen to have some unpaid caring responsibility in their life as well. But it also harms the people they support and the people who care for those people, like their families, because you can only properly rely on paid care, support work and services for your loved ones if you have the confidence that the support they're going to get is of a high quality, is delivered by a professional and is consistent, reliable and accessible.4
There are also challenges facing discrete parts of the care system. For example, Mrs Michele Carnegie, Chief Executive Officer with Community Early Learning Australia, said that education and care services are being ‘plagued’ by ‘acute workforce shortages’, which is ‘threatening the quality of provision’ of care to children. She continued that staff vacancies were at an alltime high, and services were ‘increasingly having to reduce the number of children being able to attend due to not having enough educators to operate safely and suitably.’5
The Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) also noted unique concerns with workforce shortages for community services in rural and remote areas, where ‘attracting and retaining staff is extremely difficult,’ as ‘salary packages do not cover housing and rental costs,’ which can be prohibitively high in certain areas and particularly in mining towns.6 WACOSS noted the impact of precarious work conditions in regional areas, saying:
Insecure, inappropriate and unaffordable housing in regional areas intersects with insecure and precarious work to create barriers to regional employment that limit regional growth and exacerbate boom and bust cycles in regional towns and centres.7
Regarding disability support and the ability for carers to participate in the workforce, around 42 per cent of people with disability receive care only from family members or other informal carers.8 Yet, as noted by the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, informal carers often ‘resort to utilising sick leave, reducing their hours or requesting flexible work arrangements’ to provide care while remaining employed.9

The impact on working carers

Challenging conditions, including high workload and staff absences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have served to increase staff turnover in the care and support workforce.10 Care sectors are also impacted by low wages, high burnout and a lack of secure employment opportunities.11
These various factors interact and have direct negative implications for people who are already in precarious work due to their unpaid caring responsibilities outside of the workforce.
These issues are again exacerbated by the fact that the provision of care has been feminised. Seventy-nine per cent of care and support workers are women.12 Around half of the workforce is employed part-time, and 28 per cent are employed in a casual capacity (compared to 19 per cent of all workers).13
Chief Executive Women (CEW) noted that the care sector—powered by women—has been the ‘safety net’ of the economy, but the sector has been ‘widely undervalued.’ CEW continued that:
The care sectors are encumbered by critical workforce shortages, resulting from high levels of insecure work and low pay. This is particularly important for women’s economic participation, as women dominate health and early childhood education industries. Addressing the jobs and skills crisis in the care sectors will be critical to Australia’s productivity and unlocking women’s workforce participation.14

Increased workforce participation in care

There is a clear need to remove the barriers to workforce participation, improve support systems for working carers, especially women, and to increase wages across care sectors. Ensuring that employees in care sectors receive appropriate remuneration for their services will go a long way to addressing workforce shortages.
More broadly, as Australia’s care and support workforce is highly feminised, women’s increased accessibility to the labour market has important implications for the care and support workforce. Various suggestions were put to the committee about how to address workforce shortages in the care sector.
The Ai Group was of the view for example, that workforce shortages in care sectors should in fact favour a solution of ‘promoting flexible workforce participation,’ instead of, for example, creating additional unpaid leave entitlements for carers.15
Similarly, the Victorian Council of Social Service suggested that the government could assist care providers and address immediate workforce shortages in the care economy, by ‘building a long-term pipeline of new workers to meet projected demand, and support[ting] the sector to hold onto those workers.’16
To address workforce shortages in ECEC, the joint submission of the Community Child Care Association, Community Early Learning Australia and Early Learning Association Australia called for an immediate wage subsidy increase of up to 15 per cent per hour for educators and teachers, with a simultaneous review of the award by the Fair Work Commission.17
National Seniors Australia (NSA) was also supportive of increased workforce participation by pensioners. NSA called for changes to the pension system to help address workforce shortages, given their research shows 20 per cent of pensioners were considering re-entering paid work.18
Ms Pauline Vamos of CEW, argued for greater investment in care services as it would have positive effects on the national economy, saying:
Greater provision of government funded care services has been estimated to increase labour supply by over two per cent, 70 per cent of whom would be women. When combined with higher wage growth in early childhood education and care and disabled care sectors, this has been estimated to contribute up to 1.6 per cent greater GDP by 2030.19
Despite these worthwhile suggestions, it remains unclear how improving pathways into the care sector can simultaneously ensure that people balancing work and care responsibilities can better enter the workforce with some security and flexibility. The committee will turn its attention to this issue as its work continues.

Inadequacy of wages in the care economy

A significant driver of inequality comes from women disproportionately being employed in insecure and low paid jobs, often in the care sector—and often as a direct impact of having to manage both work and care responsibilities.
Many submitters were concerned with the long-lasting impacts of the systemic undervaluation of care workers and feminised sectors, and spoke to the need to raise award wages in the care sector and to enable a proper living wage.20
Mr Tim Hicks, General Manager, Policy and Advocacy at the Aged and Community Care Providers Association, made clear that workers in aged care generally don’t enter the industry because of the money. He explained that people work in aged care because:
… they enjoy caring for older people, by and large, and also potentially for some of the other benefits of the role in terms of flexibility. A pay rise does several things. We know people don't come into aged care for the money, but for a reasonably significant number of people it is why they leave—that lack of financial competitiveness. A pay rise will significantly help, we believe, with retention of staff.21
The Antipoverty Centre argued that the care sector was undervalued and also a ‘heavily feminised, racially organised and low-paid workforce’. The Centre argued that government policy should guarantee a ‘substantial increase in award wages and significantly improved working conditions’. This would ‘not only draw people into the industry’ but would enable workers to ‘practice safely for themselves and the people they care for’.22
Ms Louise de Plater of the Health Services Union argued that sectors like aged care have been ‘significantly undervalued in government funding’ because of the assumed link between unpaid care in the home, and paid care work. In considering wages, Ms de Plater continued that:
These perceptions have been problematically formalised in industrial regulations. The bargaining system has failed low paid workers in these feminised sectors, leaving them with basically no avenue to improve wages and conditions. As a result, most are employed on award wages and award conditions or only marginally above, despite awards being designed to be a safety net of minimum conditions. As a result, there's an attraction and retention crisis in the caring workforces, which involves a very high level of attrition due to the endemic low pay and difficult conditions.23
Professor Sara Charlesworth noted that given the increased demand for skills in the care sector, better training opportunities were needed but importantly:
… we need revitalised award skills and classification structures that reflect the value of the work carried out in feminised sectors—retail, education and care—and to provide career progression in good jobs.24
The National Foundation for Australian Women called for a review of the award provisions, particular for the care sector, arguing that they are:
… neither gender neutral in their design nor family friendly in their impact. They are effective in driving a low-cost, low-quality regime and recent experience suggests that they are equally effective in driving new entrants away from the care sector altogether.25
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) also noted the gendered nature of award wages, making the point that women are far more likely than men to be reliant on an award wage, particularly in the areas of care, retail, accommodation and food services. The ACTU argued that:
The National Minimum Wage and key Award wages are also losing touch with what is commonly regarded as Australia's poverty line: 60% of median earnings.
To provide secure jobs and fair pay for women the Federal Government should:
Implement its commitments to change the law to stop employers turning secure jobs into insecure ones. This includes introducing a proper definition of casual employment, placing limits on the use of fixed term contracts, and ensuring labour hire workers get at least the same pay as directly employed workers.
Fix the bargaining system to ensure that it is simple, fair and acceptable to all., including multi-employer or sector bargaining so women in the care economy can be included in genuine bargaining processes that can deliver fair outcomes on wages and conditions.
Implement better rights for workers to secure, stable and meaningful rosters
Ensure that minimum and award wages provide at least a living wage.26
The issue with wages in ECEC was raised by the Bourke and District Children’s Services, who made the point that remote areas were especially impacted by the lack of adequate wages:
Early Childhood Educators are amongst the lowest paid workers in Australia. When comparing this remote location, they look to their colleagues in the state systems, and they are conservatively between $20,000 (certificate 3 qualification) to $60,000 (Teaching qualification) worse off when considering the additional leave, access to housing subsidy and structured professional development [required in regional areas]. Most staff report they could get better wages at the supermarket checkout, or in hospitality and many leave for this reason.27
Likewise, the Minderoo Foundation stated that the average salary for an early childhood teacher was $77 000, compared to an average full time adult wage of $92 000, and commented:
In comparison to the average weekly earnings, workers in the highly feminised ECEC sector are significantly underpaid compared to average Australian workers. Improving pay and conditions will not only improve the livelihoods of those working in the sector, but it will also raise the perceived value of care and help address the gender pay gap.28
The Work + Family Policy Roundtable (Roundtable) described the conditions of the paid care workforce as ‘critical’ and said the national minimal wage for all care workers needed to be raised, including for:
…. early childhood educators [who] are also in need of higher remuneration in recognition of the skilled nature of the work they perform and the important role they play in children’s lives and development.29
The Roundtable called on the committee to consider strategies which would ‘sustainably fund and support a highly skilled properly paid care workforce,’ indicating that:
Systemic problems with the undervaluation of feminised sectors and wage discrimination across all sectors of the labour market highlight that our industrial relations systems do not deliver adequate outcomes for women and need to be reformed. The current government is making some significant changes, but more is required. Australia urgently needs an industrial relations system that delivers for all workers no matter what their employment status, sector or gender.30
The committee notes that the Fair Work Commission is currently considering a case concerning the aged care industry which is seeking a 25 per cent increase in the award. The committee will follow this case and the findings of the Fair Work Commission with close interest as it continues its work.31

Early Childhood Education and Care

It is well known—and has been made clear in the evidence—that access to quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is fundamental for children’s health and wellbeing and plays a crucial role in determining the work-life balance for carers.32
The early childhood education and care system is broadly structured as follows:
formal child care—is regulated care away from the child’s home. The main types include long day care, before and/or after school care, family day care and occasional care; before 2005, preschool was also considered a type of formal care;
informal paid or unpaid care—is non-regulated care arranged by a child’s parent or guardian, in the child’s home or elsewhere. It includes care by grandparents, (step) siblings or other relatives (including a parent living elsewhere) and other people such as friends, neighbours, nannies or babysitters and other organisations (for example, crèche at gyms and health centres)
preschool services delivering a preschool program—which:
are structured, play-based learning programs, delivered by a qualified teacher, aimed at children in the year or two before they start full-time schooling; and
can be delivered within a long day care centre, or in a stand-alone facility.
Responsibilities for child care and pre-school are also shared between the Australian Government and state and territory governments, as follows:
the Australian Government—has policy responsibility for formal care; administers fee subsidies for child care (and provides some funding to Australian Government approved services); oversees quality accreditation systems in early childhood education and care
state and territory governments—are responsible for the policy and funding of pre-schools; and
pre-school education—is delivered using a variety of funding and delivery models, including private provision.33
These types of care should be considered against the income support programs discussed in the following chapter, and against the Paid Parental Leave provisions considered later in the report. The committee will detail and examine the ECEC framework more fulsomely in its final report.

Issues with the Australian ECEC framework

As of June 2021, Australia had 7.3 million families of which 24.4 per cent were ‘couple families with children aged 0-4 years’ that had both parents working full-time. Around 74 per cent of ‘couple families with children under 15 have mothers who are employed’.34
However, as shown by the evidence throughout this report, despite being engaged in the workforce, women are often in insecure and underpaid roles, and in casual and/or part-time positions. Despite the need for quality ECEC services to support parents’ work arrangements, the evidence received by the committee consistently emphasised the challenges many parents face in accessing ECEC.35
For example, the Minderoo Foundation told the committee that ‘a range of policy, cultural and social factors conspire to prevent many Australian women from working the paid hours they would prefer’.36
Further to this, access to suitable child care is a huge piece of the puzzle for people trying to balance work and care responsibilities, to secure an adequate income and to provide the best possible support to children in care.
The accessibility of childcare is a key determinant of parents’ ability to work, as told to the committee by the Community Child Care Association:
The capacity for parents to work is highly dependent on whether they can access education and care for their children. Families need to be able to access quality education and care in their local communities, and that suits their hours of work.
Not all families can access education and care services. Families in some locations, particularly those in lower socio-economic areas and rural and regional areas, have limited access to education and care.37
The committee’s final report will delve into the many and varied issues with Australia’s current child care system with a view to reform, but some of the key concerns raised so far during the inquiry are detailed below.
Ms Alannah Batho highlighted how current work structures impact the parents of young children, saying:
The current legislative structures, underpinning policies and cultural expectations surrounding work and care are not fit for purpose and do not support wellbeing in parents and families. Parents, particularly parents of young children, are overstretched and stressed as they attempt to navigate and balance the demands of modern parenting and modern ways of work.38
The Australian Services Union remarked that child care is a major weak point in the care and support system, and a source of stress and instability. The Australian Council of Social Services substantiated this point, explaining the unsustainable cost of childcare:
… a woman on the minimum wage would earn $160 a day. If the family needs childcare services, the out-of-pocket costs mean that employment is barely worthwhile in many cases, especially if they are a single parent or their partner is on a modest wage, and especially if they work beyond three days a week.39
The cost of ECEC was consistently raised as a barrier to working carers using ECEC to support their entry, or better engagement with paid employment. The Front Project observed that parents could see no economic benefit to using ECEC services, with prohibitive costs acting as a significant and complex barrier for families to access ECEC. The Front Project also drew attention to research finding that 52 per cent of families agreed that ‘once the cost of childcare is factored in, it is hardly worth working’.40
As with many other barriers to paid employment for unpaid carers, there is a disproportionate impact on women. The Front Project continued that:
Of all parents surveyed who identified they were not working, including those not using ECEC, 76 per cent of women considered high ECEC costs as a barrier to working as much as they wanted to, compared to 54 per cent of men … Moreover, high ECEC costs disproportionately impact families experiencing disadvantage, with research revealing that in 2018, lowincome families spent nearly twice the proportion of their weekly income on ECEC as high-income families.41
The issue of ‘childcare deserts’ was also raised with the committee. These are areas where there are more than three children for every ECEC centrebased place. While most common in regional and remote areas, ‘childcare deserts’ occur across the country. Early Childhood Australia (ECA) drew attention to this issue and noted that access to early learning is unequal in Australia. The ECA called for a ‘national system of stewardship’ to ensure that:
… early childhood services—including preschool/kindergarten, long day care, family day care and outside school hours care are available to families across Australia. … The Mitchell Institute’s Childcare Deserts and Oases report reveals that over a third of Australia's children live in 'childcare deserts' (568,700 children aged 0 to 4 years, or 36.5%).42

Workforce shortages in ECEC

The ECEC workforce, comprising mostly of women, also faces challenges due to low pay, underinvestment in skills development, limited outlook for career progression, and high staff turnover, which in turn holds back the quality of care provided.43
The adequate staffing of ECEC is vital for ensuring working parents have access to those services. However, the Minderoo Foundation stated that the ‘ECEC workforce is facing significant challenges, with high turnover, staff shortages and stress.’44 In some cases, it was submitted that staff shortages have led to the close to ECEC rooms and entire services.45
In giving evidence to the committee, Ms Samantha Page of Early Childhood Australia observed the significant workforce shortages in the early childhood sector and drew a link to inefficiencies in the funding of ECEC services and workers’ wages.46 Ms Page described how educators were feeling and what changes could be made to improve outcomes for them:
… what we know is educators and teachers, and service leaders too, want to feel competent and they want to feel confident and they want to feel they can do their job. And if the world is going to hell in a hand basket around you and you don't feel like you can do your job, that's a powerful incentive to leave. Whereas if we can try and stabilise the workforce, make it more feasible, put some supports in place, try and make the work more manageable in the short term, I think we can get back to those conversations about the career progression and the value of the work.47

Poor interoperability of ECEC and shift work

Australia’s retail workforce is highly feminised and highly casualised. Women make up 57.5 per cent of the retail workforce.48 While 55 per cent of retail workers provide care to an adult or child,49 the committee received extensive evidence of how the structures of retail work are often incompatible with accessible ECEC services.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) put to the committee that despite having some of the highest need for ECEC services, Australia’s retail workers face significant barriers in accessing child care. Retail work is facetoface and is largely shift-based, meaning parents who are retail workers are unable to work from home to facilitate the care of children and need access to flexible ECEC options. Mr Gerard Dwyer of the SDA observed that inaccessibility of ECEC services to retail workers affects the educational opportunities of their children and risks ‘building in intergenerational disadvantage for those kids who are missing out’.50
Research by UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre on behalf of the SDA highlights the unsuitable nature of the current ECEC framework for casual, part time and shift workers. The research found that many retail workers ‘have to go to extraordinary efforts to coordinate family schedules around work and care, in large part due to the cost of childcare and that the block charging of childcare does not fit into work schedules’.51
The SDA told the committee, Australia’s ECEC model is premised on a workforce that works ‘Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five,’ however 40 per cent of workers work non-standard hours.52 Retail workers’ hours of work are also highly variable, with research indicating that only two in five workers are rostered the same hours each week.53
Witnesses told the committee that workers in the age care sector face similar barriers to accessing ECEC as retail workers, noting that aged care workers’ shift work arrangements make it ‘almost impossible to use formal care’.54

ECEC in First Nations communities

The Department of Education submitted that ‘First Nations children are underrepresented in ECEC,’ with data indicating that for First Nations children aged zero to four years old, ‘there was 26.5 per cent utilisation by First Nations children compared to 40.8 per cent utilisation for nonFirst Nations children’.55
Evidence provided by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) highlighted many of the key challenges affecting First Nations peoples’ access to ECEC, including:
the work and ECEC relationship—First Nations communities have a higher level of care responsibilities and have less access to ECEC which impacts on families’ participation in the workforce;
undersupply of ECEC services—there is a ‘major undersupply’ of ECEC services in rural and remote areas and disadvantaged metropolitan areas, and the current model of funding for ECEC does not support providers to establish services in undersupplied areas;
culturally safe services—First Nations ECEC centres provide ‘culturally safe, wraparound, holistic services which serve the complex needs’ of vulnerable children and address the systemic education and socioeconomic disadvantages those children face.56
SNAICC’s submission further noted that in First Nations communities, staff shortages ‘constrain attempts to expand ECEC service provision’ and identified key factors impacting staff retention, including:
the ‘low status’ of the ECEC profession;
‘inadequate investment’ in staff’s professional development;
‘low pay and lack of equity of pay and conditions between ECEC staff and teachers;’ and
a ‘lack of clear pathways for career progress’.57
Ms Miranda Edwards of SNAICC told the committee that there is a major undersupply of ECEC services in regional and remote areas, but an oversupply in wealthier metropolitan areas. Ms Edwards made clear that a new funding model was needed, while calling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to have a base entitlement to 30 hours per week of ‘culturally safe, quality early education from ages zero to five, which enables our children to meet their full potential’. Ms Edwards went on to say that:
A new funding model is needed for our ECEC services because for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ECEC we provide culturally safe, wraparound, holistic services which serve the complex needs of our vulnerable children. The current funding model isn't adequate for this.
The current funding model doesn't support the ECEC providers to set up in regional, remote and disadvantaged metropolitan areas, even though subsidies target lower-and middle-income families.58

Improving the ECEC framework

Many suggestions have been put forward to improve, or even redesign, the ECEC framework. Many submitters and witnesses noted the intersectional benefits of an effective ECEC framework, and improvements which could support working carers to better engage with paid and stable employment.
The Independent Education Union, for example, argued that it was essential to consider ECEC and care provision as ‘more than simply releasing parents and carers from caring duties so that they can engage in paid work.’ Rather, there is a broader social and economic argument for investment in ECEC. The Union advocated for:
Stable, long-term and adequate funding … to allow not-for-profit, community-based kindergartens and preschools to provide secure employment for early childhood teachers and educators which is appropriately remunerated.
The provision of high quality, flexible education and care also requires urgent measures to address the economic value assigned to education and care work through enhanced wages and conditions for care workers generally. This is essential to attract and retain qualified and experienced workers.59
The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) called for an integrated, holistic universal early childhood development system that accounts for the interaction between Paid Parental Leave, early childhood education and care and maternal and child health services.
The CPD also noted that a guarantee would entitle every child and their family to more paid parental leave, a stronger maternal and child health system, three days of free or low-cost high-quality ECEC a week from birth until school, smoother transitions to school, and more integrated services.60
Ms Vamos of CEW explained the positive benefits to women of improved ECEC:
In the recent Jobs and Skills Summit we heard from business, unions, government, academics and economists that early childhood education and care is the most effective lever in unlocking women's workforce participation and for sourcing the workforce needed to address the skills shortages across every sector. We agree with this.61
Ms Vamos argued that to be an effective lever to workforce participation, ECEC needs to be universally affordable and accessible across society, which requires investment in ‘affordability, infrastructure and the workforce’. Ms Vamos called for the announced increase to the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) to be brought forward to January 2023, removal of the childcare subsidy activity test, and an immediate 10 per cent wage increase for ECEC educators.62
While the committee is encouraging of investment to improve both the functionality of and access to ECEC, the committee will consider as it moves forward how investment should best be directed. It is vital that investment in education, and in particular public education, is targeted and delivers the best outcomes against the investment made—both in the short and long term.

Benefits of higher female workforce participation

Reforms to Australia’s childcare systems have been put forward, in order to provide ‘double dividend’ benefits; higher female workforce participation and improved access to early education’.63
In relation to workforce participation, analysis by the Australia Institute suggests that ‘…if Australian women had the same opportunity to work fulltime as Nordic women, Australia’s GDP would be some $132 billion per year higher’.64
Analysis by the Australian Institute of Employment Rights suggests that if:
… Australia's female labour force participation increased by around 10 percentage points, to match that of Sweden—so that's 70.4 per cent—then overall labour force participation would increase by more than four percentage points, or about one million women. This would increase both health, aged care and disability above the cost of child care and paid parental leave provision.65
Similarly, analysis of proposed reforms to the CCS rebate by the Grattan Institute shows significant potential benefits, including:
… a 95 per cent subsidy for low-income households, gradually tapering for families with incomes above $70,000, at an additional budgetary cost of about $5 billion a year. We estimate this would lead to a 13 per cent increase in hours worked by second-earners with young children, delivering a GDP boost of about $11 billion a year, and boosting lifetime earnings for a typical mother by about $150,000.66

International childcare comparisons

A number of submitters and witnesses have pointed to the ECEC framework in comparable international jurisdictions and OECD countries, arguing that these countries have better early childhood support and care systems, which Australia could consider adopting. Aspects of international models of ECEC delivery primarily involve:
provision and funding of formal ECEC services being covered by the government;
workplaces that are accommodating of both parents sharing caring responsibilities;
parents having access to infrastructure that enables them to combine work and care equitably and sustainably; and
support systems that encourage active engagement in care by both parents through a ‘use it or lose it’ parental leave provision.67
Mr James Fleming, Chief Executive Officer from the Australian Institute of Employment Rights highlighted Sweden’s ECEC framework as an example of a best practice model. Mr Fleming explained that parents in Sweden have broad discretion to combine paid parental leave with other leave arrangements and can return to work part-time or on a flexible basis.68
Ms Suvi Kaskimaki, a Swedish national, expressed a similar sentiment and noted that the ECEC framework in Sweden enabled her to have agency over the decision to return to work. Ms Kaskimaki explained:
When I return to work I can also return part time; I don't need to go full time immediately. I can use this benefit until the child is eight years old. So you get the 490 days, and you can use them before the child is 12 years old. You can also just take six months off and then you can save the days and have longer summer vacations when day care is closed. You can plan whatever fits your personal situation.69
The Parenthood submitted that the application of elements of the Swedish system to Australia, would enable women to participate in paid work while managing their caring responsibilities more freely, saying that:
If the average Australian woman had the same workplace participation patterns after having children as the average Swedish woman, she would earn an additional $696,000 over her working life; and retire with an additional $180,000 in superannuation.70
Considering these best practice international examples, the Global Institute for Women's Leadership called for fully funded early childhood education from three years of age to be implemented in Australia, observing that:
The majority of rich countries profiled by UNICEF [in 2021] provide free (fully government-funded) early childhood education from age 3. In Australia nationally, free early childhood education begins at age 4. This age could be reduced, as is in the state of Victoria.71
Similarly, the Global Institute for Women's Leadership called for improvement to the financial support available to strengthen Australia’s child care system:
The rate of subsidy could be increased to improve the affordability of childcare for children under 3 and bring Australia more in line with international counterparts. Funding system design should consider ways to ensure a fair and living wage for childcare workers.

  • 1
    Department of Social Services, NDIS National Workforce Plan: 2021–2025, June 2021, p. 17.
  • 2
    National Skills Commission, Care Workforce Labour Market Study: Discussion paper, May 2021, p. 6.
  • 3
    The Treasury, Jobs + Skills Summit: Issues paper, August 2022, p. 10.
  • 4
    Ms Emeline Gaske, Assistant National Secretary, Australian Services Union, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 7.
  • 5
    Ms Michele Carnegie, Chief Executive Officer, Community Early Learning Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 21 September 2022, p. 11.
  • 6
    Western Australian Council of Social Service, Submission 46, p. 22.
  • 7
    Western Australian Council of Social Service, Submission 46, p. 22. See also NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, Submission 47, p. 16.
  • 8
    Western Australian Council of Social Service, Submission 46, p. 22.
  • 9
    Dr Ben Gauntlett, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Proof Committee Hansard, 21 September 2022, p. 19.
  • 10
    The Treasury, Jobs + Skills Summit: Issues paper, August 2022, p. 6.
  • 11
    Chief Executive Women, Submission 44, p. 3.
  • 12
    National Skills Commission, Care workforce labour market study: report summary, pp. 4–5.
  • 13
    National Skills Commission, Care workforce labour market study: report summary, pp. 4–5.
  • 14
    Chief Executive Women, Submission 44, p. 1.
  • 15
    Australian Industry Group, Submission 41, p. 10.
  • 16
    Victorian Council of Social Service, Submission 91, p. 15.
  • 17
    Community Child Care Association, Community Early Learning Australia and Early Learning Association Australia, Submission 69, p. 5.
  • 18
    National Seniors Australia, Submission 11, p. 1.
  • 19
    Ms Pauline Vamos, Chair of Policy and Engagement Committee and Board Member, Chief Executive Women, Proof Committee Hansard, 21 September 2022, p. 65.
  • 20
    See, for example, Work + Family Policy Roundtable, Submission 22, p. 2; Ms Emeline Gaske, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 7; National Foundation for Australian Women, Submission 4, p. 7; Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union, Submission 49, p. 5.
  • 21
    Mr Tim Hicks, General Manager, Policy and Advocacy, Aged and Community Care Providers Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 16 September 2022, p. 31.
  • 22
    Antipoverty Centre, Submission 110, pp. 7–8.
  • 23
    Ms Louise de Plater, National Industrial Officer, Health Services Union, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 27.
  • 24
    Professor Sara Charlesworth, Co-Convenor, Work + Family Policy Roundtable and Academic Expert, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 53.
  • 25
    National Foundation for Australian Women, Submission 4, p. 16.
  • 26
    Australian Council of Trade Unions, Submission 83, p. 17.
  • 27
    Bourke and District Children’s Services, Submission 66, p. 2.
  • 28
    Minderoo Foundation, Submission 29, p. 2.
  • 29
    Work + Family Policy Roundtable, Submission 22, p. 2.
  • 30
    Work + Family Policy Roundtable, Submission 22, p. 2.
  • 31
    Fair Work Commission, Work value case – Aged care industry, 26 September 2022, (accessed 7 October 2022).
  • 32
    Note: for the purposes of the committee’s inquiry, Early Childhood Education and Care includes childcare, preschool and care outside of school hours.
  • 33
    Department of Education, Schooling, 17 August 2022, (accessed 7 October 2022).
  • 34
    Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Status of Families, 12 October 2021, (accessed 10 October 2022).
  • 35
    See, for example: Ms Alannah Batho, Submission 8, p. 1; Work + Family Policy Roundtable, Submission 22, p. 2; Minderoo Foundation, Submission 29, p. 5; The Front Project, Submission 55, p. 2; Community Child Care Association, Community Early Learning Australia, Early Learning Association Australia, Submission 69, p. 4; Australian Council of Social Service, Submission 107, pp. 2–3.
  • 36
    Minderoo Foundation, Submission 29, p. 5.
  • 37
    Community Child Care Association, Community Early Learning Australia, Early Learning Association Australia, Submission 69, p. 4.
  • 38
    Ms Alannah Batho, Submission 8, p. 1.
  • 39
    Australian Council of Social Service, Submission 107, pp. 2–3.
  • 40
    The Front Project, Submission 55, p. 2.
  • 41
    The Front Project, Submission 55, pp. 2–3.
  • 42
    Early Childhood Australia, Submission 36, pp. 5–6.
  • 43
    UNICEF Australia, Submission 15, p. 6. As noted earlier in this chapter, the committee will continue to examine similar issues and concerns in the aged care, health and disability sectors as it continues its work.
  • 44
    Minderoo Foundation, Submission 29, p. 2.
  • 45
    Minderoo Foundation, Submission 29, p. 2.
  • 46
    Ms Samantha Page, Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 16 September 2022, p. 25.
  • 47
    Ms Samantha Page, Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Australia, Proof Committee Hansard, 16 September 2021, p. 28.
  • 48
    See, Chief Executive Women, Workplace flexibility, (accessed 6 October 2022).
  • 49
    Ms Katie Biddlestone, National Women’s Officer, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 21.
  • 50
    Mr Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary and Treasurer, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 21.
  • 51
    Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Challenges of work, family and care, 2021, p. 4.
  • 52
    Mr Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary and Treasurer, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 24.
  • 53
    Mr Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary and Treasurer, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 24.
  • 54
    Ms Emeline Gaske, Assistant National Secretary, Australian Services Union, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 14.
  • 55
    Department of Education, Submission 33, p. 6.
  • 56
    Ms Miranda Edwards, National Workforce Adviser, Early Years, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, Proof Committee Hansard, 30 September 2022, p. 37.
  • 57
    Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, Submission 14, p. 2.
  • 58
    Ms Miranda Edwards, National Workforce Adviser, Early Years, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 37.
  • 59
    Independent Education Union, Submission 21, p. 2.
  • 60
    Centre for Policy Development, Submission 13, p. 1.
  • 61
    Ms Pauline Vamos, Chair of Policy and Engagement Committee and Board Member, Chief Executive Women, Proof Committee Hansard, 21 September 2022, p. 65.
  • 62
    Ms Pauline Vamos, Chair of Policy and Engagement Committee and Board Member, Chief Executive Women, Proof Committee Hansard, 21 September 2022, p. 65.
  • 63
    National Foundation for Australian Women, Submission 4, Appendix A, p. 9.
  • 64
    Mark Grudnoff, Senior Economist, The Australia Institute, Centre for Future Work, The Economic Benefits of High-Quality Universal Early Child Education, March 2022, p. 5.
  • 65
    Mr James Fleming, Executive Director, Australian Institute of Employment Rights, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 2.
  • 66
    Grattan Institute, Orange Book 2022: Policy priorities for the federal government, February 2022, p. 34.
  • 67
    The Parenthood, Submission 16, p. 3.
  • 68
    Mr James Fleming, Executive Director, Australian Institute of Employment Rights, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 1.
  • 69
    Ms Suvi Kaskimaki, private capacity, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 September 2022, p. 2.
  • 70
    The Parenthood, Submission 16, p. 3.
  • 71
    Global Institute for Women's Leadership, Submission 50, p. 4.

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