On 15 July 2022, the Productivity Commission released an Issues Paper as part of its Inquiry into carer’s leave. The Inquiry is specifically asked to assess:
- the potential impact of amending the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) to provide for extended unpaid carer’s leave to support employees who are engaged in informal caring for a person who is frail and living at home; and
- the social and economic benefits and costs, including the impact on residential aged care and the national economy, that would be expected if the National Employment Standards were amended.
The Inquiry was commissioned by the former Federal Government in accordance with a recommendation made by the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety. The Royal Commission had identified whether an extended carer leave entitlement in the FW Act would alleviate pressure from the aged care system and provide further support to informal carers.
Latest data shows that there are 350,000 employed primary carers in Australia, accounting for 3% of the workforce. More than 70% of informal carers are female, with most employed carers working in the industries of healthcare/social assistance, education and retail sectors.
On 2 September 2022, Ai Group made detailed submissions to this Inquiry supporting the contributions of informal carers and their employers, but arguing that an additional statutory entitlement providing for an extended absence from paid employment is not appropriate. Given that the vast majority of caring arrangements extend beyond two years it is important that carers maintain workforce connection, and this is best facilitated through the right to request broader flexible work arrangements under the FW Act, which currently makes employees who meet the definition of a “carer” in the Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Cth) eligible to make such requests.
The creation of a new FW Act entitlement to extended unpaid carer’s leave will also create adverse consequences for the sustainability of the aged care system and the role of female work participation – particularly for mature aged women.