A push to bring forward the federal government's childcare reforms by six months is not a welfare proposal but rather an economic stimulus measure, the peak union body says.
Ahead of the jobs and skills summit this week, the Australian Council of Trade Unions is calling on the government to fast track the increased childcare subsidies due to come into place from July 1, 2023.
In the long term, ACTU president Michele O'Neil says early childhood education and care should be free in Australia.
"Investing in early childhood education and care pays for itself, it's not a cost measure," ACTU president Michele O'Neil told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
"This is actually smart economic sense, it adds value to those countries in the world that provide free and universal childcare ... it is healthier for everyone."
The measure would boost women's economic participation and should be a government priority to drive productivity, Ms O'Neil said.
An ACTU report found taking action to cut gender inequality in workplaces could unlock $111 billion annually.
Nearly 900,000 women would enter the workforce if they were able to participate at the same rate as men, the report found.
Last week the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data showing the gender pay gap - the difference in full-time earnings between men and women - had grown to 14.1 per cent, up 1.9 per cent from the previous year.
If that pay gap was cut in half, Australian women would take home an additional $85b, and generate $111b for the economy every year, the ACTU said.
The education and early childhood education ministers are working on the government's promised childcare subsidy policy, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said.
"Our government has always recognised the positive impact that supporting families with childcare actually does," she told ABC News on Tuesday.
"At the summit we'll be looking at a whole range of areas ... to boost participation for women potentially locked out of the labour market altogether."
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said while he needed to see details of the government's childcare proposal, he was supportive of sensible policies to support families.
"It's an important investment because we want participation of women to increase and there's a very significant economic multiplier in the economy if we can provide families with that support," he told reporters in Melbourne.
"We're very supportive of measured responses and assistance and we would support sensible policy."
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the skills summit would be about advancing the common interest of unions, employers and workers for a stronger economy.
"Australians have conflict fatigue (and) what they want is for agreements to be sought wherever possible (between employers and employees)," he told Sydney radio 2SM.
The ACTU also called for paid parental leave to be increased from 18 to 26 weeks at the replacement rather than minimum wage, with a plan to lift it to 52 weeks by 2030.
Current arrangements create an economic disincentive for men to take paid parental leave and share the care burden, Ms O'Neil said.
"If we increased both the amount that paid parental leave was paid on and the amount of leave available then we create the incentive," she said.
Superannuation must also be paid on all leave, Ms O'Neil said.
"In 2022, women shouldn't have to give up on having a family and men shouldn't miss out on being involved in raising their kids because paid parental leave is insufficient," she said.