Time to care

The ACTU has launched a campaign about the right to request time to care. They’re calling for:

  1.  All employees with caring responsibilities, older workers and workers experiencing domestic violence to have the right to request a change in work arrangements;
  2. An obligation on employers to genuinely consider the request (which can be refused on reasonable business grounds); and
  3. The right for an employee to appeal an unreasonable refusal of their request.

Currently, the right to request flexible hours is limited to parents with responsibility for a child under school age or a child with disability aged under 18. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten recently announced broadening of the current right to request.

Workers who can make right to request flexible work arrangements will be extended to include:

  • workers with caring responsibilities
  • employees who are parents, or who have responsibility for the care of a child of school age
  • employees with disability
  • mature-age employees
  • workers experiencing family violence and workers providing personal care, support and assistance to a member of their immediate family or member of their household because they are experiencing family violence.

The Government will also amend the Fair Work Information Statement provided to every new employee to ensure they are aware of their rights to request flexible work arrangements.

The ACTU points out:

  1. Without an obligation on employer to treat the requests seriously, or the right for an employee to appeal an unreasonable refusal, the Fair Work Act’s right to request a change in work arrangements provision lacks real meaning and remains not much more than the right to ask for something.
  2. The amendments only require employers to seriously consider an employee’s request and employees may only appeal unreasonable refusals (such as where an employer says we don’t want to consider your request at all).  Reasonable employers who consider a request but nevertheless cannot accommodate it have nothing to worry about.

They are calling for further amendments of the Fair Work Act to address the issues above. They have produced  a fact sheet that spells out the key issues. Flexible working arrangements that enable people to manage care responsibilities are a key factor in safeguarding women’s economic security and equal opportunity.

The ACTU cites data that suggest:

  • The majority of families now have both parents working;
  •  4.1 million employees combine work with caring responsibilities;
  • The second highest issue listed by both men and women in the 2012 ACTU Census was balancing work and family;
  • The results of the Inquiry into Insecure Work showed that many employees (especially women) who were denied family friendly working arrangements were being forced in to low paid, insecure jobs;
  • Labour force participation of Australians over 55 has grown from around one quarter (24%) to one third (34%) over the past 10 years, and the trend is predicted to continue; and
  • Two thirds of women who suffer domestic violence are working in the paid labour force

The ACTU National Community Summit: Creating Secure Jobs & a Better Future provides a great opportunity to discuss these issues further.

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