Families need more time together

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has released the results of a two-year inquiry into the balance between work and family life that finds people are struggling to manage work and family commitments.

The Commission’s findings rest on 181 submissions, 44 consultations and focus groups with wide and diverse gatherings of people.

The Commission concluded that, despite a decade or more of economic prosperity, many Australians are not living the life they want and feel pressured, stressed and overly constrained in the choices they can make, particularly at key points in their lives.

The community repeatedly told HREOC that the burning issue was about time: time pressures, conflicting demands on time and a desire for more time to enjoy family and friends that was at the heart of efforts to strike the balance between paid work and family responsibilities.

HREOC says its report aims to broaden the work and family debate to better include men’s role in family life; to include forms of care other than child care – such as elder care and care for people with a disability – and to highlight the relationship between paid work and unpaid work.

HREOC urges as a matter of priority a national, government-funded scheme of paid maternity leave of 14 weeks at the level of the federal minimum wage. HREOC also says the government should phase in a comprehensive scheme of paid parental leave consisting of two weeks’ paid paternity leave to be taken at the birth of a child and a further 38 weeks of paid parental leave available to either parent.

The federal government has rejected the recommendations, with Minister for Workplace Relations Joe Hockey telling the Sydney Morning Herald they would be too expensive and ‘would result in a significant impost on business’.

‘Pathetic’ paid maternity leave and expensive childcare: how can young women stay in nursing?

Karla Sundquist, an EN at Kareena Private, says private hospitals need to think much harder about providing better family-friendly conditions if they are going to retain young nurses like her.

Karla has just returned to work seven months after the birth of her second child.

‘I wasn’t ready to go back to work but had to for financial reasons. I didn’t want to go back until he was two. It’s a shame we are forced to go back early,’ she said.

‘Private hospital maternity leave is pathetic compared to public hospitals. Most of the nurses at Kareena are in their 40s or 50s and reducing hours and retiring. There aren’t many young people there. They need greater incentives for young women to work there.’

Karla says she supports the idea of government-funded maternity leave.

‘John Howard wants to encourage us to have babies but he won’t help us. He says increase the population but he offers nothing to help. The baby bonus is not enough. We need paid maternity leave and better childcare,’ she said.

‘I’m originally from Canada. Over there the government pays 75% of your salary for 12 months after you’ve had a baby and the employer must hold your job open for two years. It’s a much better system.’

Childcare, said Karla, is another crippling issue in balancing work and family responsibilities.

‘I earn $44,000 before tax and I pay out $11,000 a year in childcare. It’s not much of an incentive to go to work.’

Karla agrees that finding time to spend with the family is a big pressure.

‘My husband works overtime to get a decent wage and I work every day that he has off. We need to have more time off together no matter who pays or else we’re never going to see each other.

‘That’s not good for a young family.’