Flexibility at heart of fair work: inquiry

·2-min read

Australia's fair work laws must be reformed to provide better flexibility to benefit employers and employees, a parliamentary committee has been told.

At its first public hearing on Friday, the committee heard from disability care advocates, government departments and small business representatives about the challenges workers face balancing employment and care responsibilities.

Submissions to the committee so far largely focus on the need to reform the paid parental leave scheme to give mums and dads equal access to leave entitlements.

Workers can currently access 20 weeks of paid parental leave at the minimum wage but the primary carer, usually the woman, is entitled to take 18 weeks while the secondary carer is entitled to two.

Representatives from the department of employment told the committee work was under way to ensure the scheme gave couples more choice and flexibility to share care responsibilities.

Employment department assistant secretary Lace Wang said the scheme also required parents to take the leave all at once rather than splitting it to suit their needs.

She told the committee the department was examining flexibility in the entitlements so both partners would be encouraged to take leave and share caring duties, rather than placing responsibility on one person.

Council of Small Business Australia head Alexi Boyd said law reform must take into account employers who needed to balance care responsibilities with work.

"Having accessibility not only to childcare for early learning but also for before and after school care - particularly for primary-aged kids - would mean you'd have a real increase in productivity for small business owners," she said.

Having received more than 100 submissions so far, Greens senator and committee chair Barbara Pocock said it was clear change was needed.

Senator Pocock said understanding lived experiences of people who had care responsibilities was vital to establishing solutions.

"We want to find solutions that will benefit workers, those they care for, as well as children, families, employers and the wider Australian community," she told the committee.

Meanwhile, National Seniors Australia urged the committee to examine the role of older Australians who provide regular care for grandchildren.

"Grandparents are providing unpaid childcare in the face of high childcare fees and cost of living pressures facing younger parents, and (there is) a consensus that grandparent care is undervalued," a submission to the committee said.

The committee is due to provide an interim report to parliament by mid-October and a final report in February 2023.