Modern Workplaces, Modern Rights

Modern workplaces, Modern Rights


Life is not all about work. Many of the significant gains made by working people and the union movement in the past — the eight hour day, weekends, annual leave, paid parental leave, sick and carer’s leave — have been fought for and won in recognition that being able to spend quality time with family, and being able to support them when circumstances call, is the essence of a good life.

In the last two decades the nature of work and families has changed significantly. The demands of modern life means that many Australian families are, and need to be, double income households.

In 2016 there were:

  • 12 million working Australians. 
  • About 5.6 million families living as a couple, of which 53.5 per cent are families with both partners working. 
  • Nearly one million sole parent families. 
  • 2.7 million carers, of which 53.7 per cent were employed. 

Our workplace laws haven’t kept up with the changing nature of work and family responsibilities and we see now more than ever a work-life collision. Millions of families are juggling paid work with the responsibility for parenting young children and/or caring for ill, disabled or aging family members.

Both women and men regard work, parenthood and caring as important in their lives.

We know that a significant number of men - especially young fathers - desire greater access to flexible work arrangements than they currently have.

But women still carry the vast majority of caring responsibility across their entire work life.


  • Employment Ratio 66.6 per cent men & 55.7 per cent women = gender participation gap of 11 per cent 
  • Gender Pay Gap = 16 per cent
  • Superannuation Gap = 53 per cent (by aged 50yrs)
  • Parenting = Approximately 55 per cent of women work part-time (with children under 15yrs)
  • Caring = 71.8 per cent all primary carers are women

We believe both women and men should have the right to secure, good quality working hours for parenting and/or caring responsibilities when they need them. Parents or carers have a right to go back to their previous hours after their family responsibilities cease or are reduced.

In our current system employers have all the power. Workers can request flexible working arrangements, but employers can refuse, and workers have no right of appeal. While some employers have a part-time/flexible working policy, often employer discretion and business needs over-ride the health and wellbeing of workers and their families.

In order to support families we must shift the balance between employers and workers. For too long our system has started from a point that assumes workers will be available to work full-time. Any worker’s attempt to reconcile work and family commitments must justify departure from that “norm”.

The ACTU have applied to the FWC for a new right for workers to temporarily reduce their working hours to help them better manage their work and family commitments.

We need to change the rules so workers can reconcile work and family responsibilities and align workplace norms to the reality of modern working families.

Gender Equality

The work-life collision of juggling paid work and family responsibilities disproportionately impacts women.

The majority of the work caring for young children, elderly parents or family members with an illness or disability is borne by women.

Shouldering these unpaid responsibilities has long term, negative consequences for a woman’s lifetime earnings, job security, career path and retirement savings: “motherhood pay penalty”. This is in stark contrast to men’s attachment to the workforce.

Women already represent the majority of low-paid, award dependent workers with less bargaining power in the workplace.

In the current system, part-time and casual work is structured for the benefit of employers not workers. The lack of access to flexible working hours plays a large role in the continuing gender pay gap, discrimination during pregnancy and on return to work with high levels of occupational downgrading. T

he gender pay gap has stubbornly been between 15 per cent and 19 per cent for the past two decades, and workplace laws have not been adequate enough to close it.