Federal child care commitment critical to women’s participation in retail workforce

Thursday 6 May 2021

Australia’s largest retail body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment of $1.7 billion to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for families with children in child care but called for additional measures to urgently increase women’s workforce participation.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the announcement is important to retail, which is an industry of choice for women, in particular working mums, with the sector employing one in ten Australians.

“We know that women represent nearly 60% of the overall retail workforce and fill around 70% of part-time and casual roles[1]. The timing of this support is critical given the current skills shortage within retail and the high proportion of part-time and casual positions that are filled by women,” Mr Zahra said.

“As we rebuild our economy, retail will play a key role. We need to remove the barriers for women who want to get back in the workforce and invest in their skills after time out of the job market. We also need continued measures to strengthen consumer confidence, so retailers can confidently employ more people and increase hours for their existing employees.

“We know female underemployment in retail is linked to child care, but inflexible working conditions and skills are also major barriers to participation. Many of the industrial relations reforms put on the table over the past year were dropped, leaving flexibility for rostered hours of work for both employees and employers within retail in a very unfriendly place for anyone who is the primary carer of children. We urgently need to complete those reforms to allow women more flexibility.

“With skills shortages emerging as a dominant issue this year, largely due to the decline in workers from overseas, we need a focused investment in retail skills and training to help working mothers back into the workforce and to advance their careers.

“We also need good government policy to maintain consumer confidence at record high levels and for that to translate into sustainable growth in retail sales, which remain volatile given the impact of rolling lockdowns on our sector and the removal of government stimulus. There is little point making it easier for women to get back into the workforce or take on additional work, if retailers and other businesses don’t have sufficient confidence to invest in those additional positions and hours.”

Mr Zahra said the ARA would also welcome a broader discussion about economic reform that further increases women’s participation and financial security.

“Superannuation is another important area of focus, and we need to ensure working mums are no worse-off than working dads at retirement age. It’s also important to view our post-Covid economic recovery through the lens of gender to ensure the government’s marquee stimulus packages are not skewed to male-dominated apprenticeships.”

“The Federal Government’s announcement provides more choice for working mothers and also puts more cash into the family budget each week, which are good outcomes for Australian families, the retail sector and the broader economy. But we also need to make sure that retailers have enough confidence to commit to more roles and more hours, that women re-entering the workforce have access to skills training, and that there is capacity in the child care system to provide more availability and flexibility for families.”

[1] Source: data provided by ARA members to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

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