Work From Home

Mother of an idea for working mums

Mother of an idea for working mums

Claire Harvey.

I CAN help the government find a massive stash of free money — and the appreciation of every woman in the land. Forget about fiddling with paid parental leave. Just force all employers to give mothers flexibility.

The professional whingers in big business will howl with outrage, just like they do when anyone talks about raising the minimum wage by a couple of dollars.

Great. Let them whinge.

But here’s the thing. Parental leave is nice for the period when a woman is at home with a tiny newborn. It helps keep the mortgage payments going. But it does nothing to help a woman ­remain in the workforce long-term. It doesn’t help her superannuation balance.

It won’t keep her out of poverty in her old age, and it certainly won’t do anything for Australia’s gross domestic product, productivity or taxation­ ­revenue.

Most employers just do not get it. Their idea of “flexibility” is allowing a woman to work part-time or to ­become a ­casual, with all the instability that brings. They want her glued to her chair, in the direct line of sight of the boss, between the hours of 8.30 and 5.30. And that’s why there are more than 911,000 women with children under 15 who are not in the workforce at all. They’re not unemployed. They’re not even looking for work.

That’s because too many companies are too thick to see they’re missing out on an ­entire generation of experienced, highly educated women who drop out of the workforce, or dramatically scale back their contribution.

Being a working mum is a juggling act. Picture: iStock

They could be paying a fortune in tax and producing billions in work for the ­nation — but they’re not.

There’s an anomaly in the federal law which means every worker has the right to ask an employer for flexible work conditions, but no right to appeal if the boss says no.

Bosses can legally dismiss a request with the excuse that it would cost too much, or is too inconvenient, without any ­obligation to prove it.

Most women I know want ­either the chance to leave the office at 2.30pm to pick the kids up from school before getting back online from home; the chance to work from home for part of the week; or a time-shift to help the family work smoothly.

Of course, some choose to stay home. But I’m talking about those who’d love to work but don’t know how to get the conditions they need. That’s a tragedy for all of us.

Women who don’t work are incredibly vulnerable, even if they might not feel like it.

They might think they’re insulated from financial stress because their husband has a good income. But what happens if the relationship breaks down? What if he gets injured at work, or dies?

I have a girlfriend who’d love to return to work now her child is two, but she’s not going to bother.

Her boss — a woman — said my mate couldn’t possibly do her job part-time, and she couldn’t share it with someone else. So what happened?

She went back to work for a few weeks, then decided she was completely miserable with her baby in long days of care at a centre, and quit. The job, by the way, was with a women’s shoe label. Go the sisterhood.

Bosses can legally dismiss a request with the excuse that it would cost too much, or is too inconvenient, without any ­obligation to prove it.

This is why motherhood makes women less likely to work — just 54 per cent of women with a child under four are in the workforce, compared with 95 per cent of­ ­fathers with kids under four.

Remember Tony Abbott’s promise before the last election to introduce much more generous paid parental leave? It died.

Instead the government thought it’d be nice to do the complete opposite by cracking down on “double dipping” mothers and making the parental leave system much tougher.

But even that hasn’t come into effect, because the government hasn’t bothered to get the legislation past the parliament.

Poor old Social Services Minister Christian Porter is left limply saying it’s still their policy for the upcoming­ ­election.

Righto. The Abbott-Turnbull government has completely shattered its credibility on this front. Even if they promise another policy change, who would believe them?

Hence my idea. Just forget it and give mums flexibility ­instead — and watch the tax revenue roll in.

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