CEW Pre Budget Submission calls on Government to unlock the economy through women’s workforce participation

CEW calls on the Federal Government to unlock the economy by addressing womens workforce participation

CEW is calling on the Federal Government to address the country’s economic challenges with a suite of policy settings that will help unlock women’s workforce participation for the good of all. 

In its 2024-25 Pre Budget Submission, which has been submitted to Treasury, CEW is calling for immediate action from the Government to invest in universal early childcare education, to modernise paid parental leave, value care at the centre of the economy, boost JobSeeker and update the taxation system to better support working parents. 

CEW research has found that 1 million additional full-time skilled workers could be unlocked in Australia if women were engaged in paid work at the same rate as men. 

CEW president Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz said, “Gender equality is not a nice-to-have, it is essential for the growth and productivity of Australia. Right now, the Federal Government has the ability to turbocharge our economy by tapping into the highly educated and skilled workforce of Australian women”. 

“The best way to boost productivity and build an economy that reflects modern Australia is to invest in gender equality for the good of all, men and women. There is an immediate opportunity to address these important policy settings in the budget.” 

Australia’s current childcare system isn’t fit for purpose and needs to be fixed 

A recent report by the Productivity Commission supports CEW’s position to overhaul the current system by investing in universal access to early childhood education and care, and relaxing or abolishing the Child Care Subsidy Activity Test. 

According to the Commission, these reforms alone would increase women’s workforce participation by 20,700 full-time employees, while the Grattan Institute estimates that a universal subsidy of 90 per cent would boost GDP by $24 billion a year. 

Early education remains a significant cost-of-living pressure for families, with Australia’s early childhood education among the most expensive in the OECD. Unacceptably high Effective Marginal Tax Rates also mean secondary earners — mostly women — face losing around 70 per cent of their income when increasing their work hours. 

“If we can improve the early childhood education system, we will unlock a workforce that already exists, uplift productivity, improve cost of living pressures for families and most importantly give our children the best start in life,” Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz said. 

Normalising Paid Parental Leave for men will create a multitude of benefits 

CEW is calling on the Government to introduce ‘use it or lose it’ provisions as part of its new Paid Parental Leave (PPL) legislation, to encourage men to take up their leave entitlement and to break down the gender norms around caring for children. 

“The Government’s new scheme will see a family’s access to Paid Parental Leave increase from 20 to 26 weeks. This is a positive outcome for women, but also a great opportunity for men, who should be entitled to at least six weeks of this allocation,” Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz says. 

“These measures will address the conundrum faced by the 80 per cent of Australian fathers, who agree that they are equally responsible for the care of their children, yet only take 14 per cent of Paid Parental Leave.” 

Bring superannuation on Paid Parental Leave in line with other types of leave 

The Pre Budget Submission also recommends that Government extend the paid superannuation guarantee to PPL, to ensure that those undertaking unpaid care work do not miss out on crucial years of superannuation accumulation. 

“ASFA has estimated that paying superannuation on paid parental leave would cost the taxpayer about $200 million. This is a modest investment in Australians’ economic security in retirement, and it is also a budget measure that will not increase inflation,” Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz said. 

“We know women approaching retirement have 23 per cent less superannuation than men, and this measure will provide greater financial security for women in retirement.” 

Government must place meaningful value on the care economy 

Care work, despite being vital to the wellbeing of every Australian and the largest employer in the country, continues to be systemically undervalued and underpaid compared to other sectors. 

“Care industries face critical workforce shortages, low wages, high levels of burnout and a lack of secure employment opportunities. The Government must show they value this workforce by investing in secure, well-paid jobs in the education, health and care industries,” Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz said. 

“One example of the systemic undervaluing of care work is the fact that Under the Fair Work Act, students completing vocational placements such as teaching and nursing are not considered employees and therefore are not entitled to receive a minimum wage or any other entitlement. This needs to be rectified.” 

The submission also calls for Government to prioritise women’s housing and address homelessness, increase JobSeeker payments, and consider gender impacts in policymaking to ensure no woman is left behind in the development and delivery of the budget. 

In the workplace, CEW continues to recommend the full implementation of the Respect@Work Report and Set the Standard Report recommendations and to encourage all employers to set gender equality targets. 

The complete list of CEW’s immediate policy recommendations can be found here. 

Have a question about our Pre Budget Submission? Reach out to media@cew.org.au.