Are you struggling with negotiating and/or finding flexible work? You are not alone. This is a problem for the vast majority of mums, and things have gotten worse not better.
Lets get educated (read below). Lets get angry, and lets get even (sign up to United Mothers here).
There are more women working more hours in paid employment, and this is regarded as good news from a workforce participation perspective. However, with caring still done predominantly by women, there is a growing double burden on women and their families. Over a third of women working full-time would like to do less paid work and almost half of all fathers in couple households work more than they’d prefer. It should be easier for mothers and fathers to adjust their hours at work to care for their children and arguably all workers need greater control over their time not just to look after kids, but increasingly their parents and grandchildren.
Exploring our work-life challenges, the annual Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) survey reveals that while some positive progress has occurred, work-life challenges are persistent for women and men, and for some groups of mothers, things have actually gotten worse since 2007. These are some of the highlights from the most recent report published in August 2012:
- Around one quarter of the Australians surveyed report that work frequently (often or almost always) interferes with other life activities;
- Women’s work-life outcomes are worse than men’s, when differences in work hours are taken into account;
- Mothers have worse work-life outcomes than fathers, whether single or partnered; Managers and professionals have worse work-life interference than other occupations;
- Most of those who work long hours would prefer not to;
- Work-life interference for women working full-time women has increased during the period 2007 to 2012, whereas men’s outcomes have remained steady;
- Full-time women’s dissatisfaction with their work-life balance has risen (from 15.9 per cent in 2008 to 27.5 per cent in 2012) while men’s has showed no change;
- Their experience of chronic time pressure has increased, with 68.6 per cent of full-time women often or almost always feeling rushed and pressed for time, up from 63.4 per cent in 2008 (with no change amongst full-time men);
- In 2012, the gap between full-time women’s actual and preferred hours was the largest since 2007. On average they would prefer to work 8.7 hours a week less than they actually do;
- Forty two per cent of mothers in full-time employment would prefer to work part-time – the largest proportion since 2007;
- Women who combine care of children with other care responsibilities – the ‘sandwich’ generation – have worse work-life outcomes than any other group.
If we are serious about supporting women returning to work after having kids, as all politicians would likely say they are, change in a number of areas is critical:
- We need more childcare centers and other solutions that provide high quality, affordable and flexible care for babies, infants, pre-school and school-age kids
- We need rights to flexible working arrangements that are enforceable. The current ‘right to request’ has been criticized for being too weak.
Policy solutions continue to be discussed in Canberra. In February this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an extension to the pre existing right to request flexible working arrangements to parents returning from parental leave. What was odd about this announcement was the fact that ‘parents or carers of children under school age’ already had the right. Protections against roster changes were also mentioned. Initial analysis is skeptical about the likely impact of these reforms.
Of greater potential impact is the Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012, put forward by the by federal Greens MP Adam Bandt. The amendments contained in this private Member’s bill would enable all permanent workers with more than 12 months service the right to appeal to a Fair Work Australia (FWA) tribunal if their request for flexible working hours is denied by their employer. Currently, employers can deny flexible work requests if they fall outside operational business needs. This gives an employer an easy out if they don’t want to comply with the spirit of the legislation. The bill proposes to allow FWA the power to issue a ‘flexible working arrangements order’ if they determine that an employee’s request could actually be reasonably accommodated.
Employers have raised concerns that an enforceable ‘right to request’ would strip them of their right to determine what arrangements work best for their business. They also argued that appeals to the FWA tribunal would be time consuming and that changes made to the working arrangements of one employee could impact whole teams. In response, Adam Bandt has argued that the amendment would allow for increased productivity and high staff retention and would be appropriately balanced against employer’s legitimate operational needs.
Specifically, The Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012 proposes to:
- Give employees who have been in their job 12 months enforceable rights to request flexible working arrangements, including the number of hours they work, the scheduling of those hours and the location of work;
- For carers who are looking after another person, employers may refuse flexible arrangements only where there are legitimate business reasons to deny the request. For all other employees, employers can refuse on operational grounds.
- Give Fair Work Australia the ability to hear and determine any disputes if an employer refuses a request.
The amendment is being considered by the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Education and Employment.