Speeches → 2022

SPEECH

THE CARE ECONOMY POST COVID-19: THE MISSING OPPORTUNITY IN THE LABOUR MARKET

G20 MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE ON WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT

 

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women

Date: Thursday, 25 August 2022

Thank you very much, Minister Bintang.

Thank you very much for your generous hospitality and hosting today.

Excellencies, Ministers, it’s my pleasure to represent Australia today in support of Indonesia’s G20 Presidency.

Before I turn to my remarks today, I wish to acknowledge that today is Ukraine’s Independence Day and also marks six long months since Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine. Australia condemns in the strongest terms this illegal and inhuman invasion. 

As Minister for Women, I want to particularly acknowledge the devastating impact on the women and girls of Ukraine. We pay tribute to the incredible courage and resilience shown by the Ukrainian people and Australia stands with them.

Turning to the focus of today's important discussions.

The Albanese Labor Government was elected just over three months ago at an election that was clearly influenced by women and issues of gender equality and with a strong platform to address women’s inequality, improving women’s safety and women’s economic participation and economic security including in the care economy.

COVID brought to the fore issues of care and its impact on women both at home and in the workforce in Australia and across the region.

Right from the early months of the COVID pandemic, women have borne the brunt of the economic consequences of the pandemic, largely through their roles as paid and unpaid carers.

Without care – both paid and unpaid – our societies would simply have stopped functioning.

The spotlight is on the care economy – and we cannot waste this opportunity to learn from the experience of COVID and shape it for the better. 
 
In Australia, the paid care economy is growing, with the health care and social assistance sector more than doubling in size in the past 20 years, rising from 10 to 15 per cent of the workforce and now employing more than 2 million people.

Access to quality care in a formal care economy is critical to broader workforce participation, especially for women.  

Equally, we have a strong ambition to provide high quality and dignified care for older people and people with disability, as well as early childhood education for children.

But – like many other countries – we need carers and educators in place to make this happen.

The highly feminised nature of our caring professions, the low paid nature of these critical jobs help  perpetuate a narrative that care is a woman’s role as opposed to a family and community issue.
            
In Australia women make up more than three quarters of the paid care economy.

In both early childhood care and education and in aged care, women are over 80 per cent of the workforce.

And yet, these workers are amongst our lowest paid, and even in these heavily feminised industries, gender wage gaps persist.  

In Australia, low pay, challenging working conditions and limited opportunities for career progression means that we struggle to attract and retain workers to the care sector.

We know that we need to do more and our government will take concrete action.

The Government explicitly recognised gender equality and the need to support women in low-paid work, including aged care in our submissions on wage cases before the Fair Work Commission, which sets the minimum wages in Australia.

The Australian Government will make improvements to our industrial relations laws to address issues facing women and work, including the gender pay gap.  

We will ban pay secrecy clauses and strengthen reporting on gender pay. We will also work to address harassment in the workplace and legislate a right to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave.

Australia met its Brisbane Target in February 2020 and while there were fluctuations due to COVID-19, Australia achieved a record low of 7.6 percentage points in July 2022. 

However, women still aren’t working the hours they want to, with underemployment still high.

Addressing the challenges and opportunities in the care economy is foundational to women’s economic participation. 

Gender equality and a responsive, high quality care economy are inextricably linked.

We must acknowledge that for as long as care remains the domain of women, we cannot fully address the challenges in the care economy or achieve gender equality.

We know that women are taking on higher rates of unpaid care. In Australia 7 out of 10 primary carers are women, and hours women spent in unpaid care increased dramatically during COVID. 

We recognise that our economic, industrial and employment settings need to support the sharing of paid and unpaid care work between men and women and challenge the norm that care work is women's business. 

Our Government is committed to Australia re-emerging as a global leader in gender equality.

We will host a Jobs and Skills Summit next week and women’s economic equality is woven through all aspects of the Summit.

The Summit will focus on productivity, incomes and shared prosperity. The care economy will be a major focus because we know that it is a critical constraint on women’s economic equality and on our broader economic progress.

We have already committed to improvements in access to early childhood education to make it more affordable and to allow women to work more hours if they wish.

We will also re-introduce gender responsive budgeting and work will begin on Australia's first National Strategy on Gender Equality. 

We recognise there are no immediate solutions to lifting gender equality and addressing the opportunities and constraints in our care economies.

This G20 session, this session, is a key contribution to understanding how we can invest in and reform the care economy so that we can unleash the potential of everyone to participate in the economy in the ways that work for them and which support all people to be cared for with dignity and respect.

I will be listening closely during these proceedings for reflections and learning that I can take back to the Summit and to my work in Australia, and I am committed to sharing Australia’s experiences as well.

Australia is proud to support Indonesia’s G20 Presidency, and to contribute to a globally inclusive pandemic recovery for all.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to contribute to today’s important session.

[ENDS]

Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher, Minister for Finance, Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Women