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While women’s workforce participation is at a record high, it continues to lag behind men’s workforce participation. Women are also more likely to be underemployed, work part-time or work fewer hours. Women’s lower levels of workforce participation mean many in New South Wales are missing out on the benefits of working at their full capacity, including the financial resilience, sense of purpose and independence that paid work can provide.
The barriers to women’s workforce participation are well known. They include the disproportionate female share of unpaid work in the home, gender norms and stereotypes, childcare affordability and accessibility, and challenges re-entering the workforce.
Research suggests women’s careers and lives can change dramatically when they become parents. This is evidenced by an increase in maternal part-time employment, unlike paternal employment patterns which remain virtually unchanged.96
In 2021, women spent on average 30.3 hours per week doing unpaid work, compared to only 17.9 hours per week for men.97 This gap has been consistent since the survey began in 2002.
The largest divide is in hours of unpaid work for men and women in New South Wales with children aged 0-5 years, where women on average complete around three hours more unpaid work per day than men.98 This demonstrates how unpaid work ‘crowds out’ paid work for women with young children.
Chart 3.3: Average hours per day in paid and unpaid work, NSW, 2019
Source: NSW Treasury analysis of Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA).99
This dynamic reinforces gender stereotypes, reduces opportunities for women to develop their careers, contributes to the gender pay gap and impacts wellbeing.
Access to childcare enables parents to participate in the workforce. As women take on an unequal share of caring and domestic responsibilities, policies that facilitate access to childcare are a significant enabler of women’s workforce participation.
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is complex, with a mixed market of preschool, long day care, occasional care, family day care and before and after school care services delivered by a range of for-profit, not-for-profit and government providers.
The NSW and Australian governments share responsibility for the sector, which adds to this complexity.
Recent research by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission suggests that affordability is the most important consideration for households when deciding how much formal ECEC to use. After cost is considered, parents focus on other considerations including location, availability, safety and security, and connections with educators.100
Separately, research by the NSW Productivity Commission identifies several barriers to the increased uptake of ECEC services including a lack of choice of providers, inflexible care arrangements, problems securing a childcare place, high out-of-pocket costs and uncertainty about out-of-pocket costs.101 The proportion of New South Wales ECEC centres offering flexible hours (outside standard work hours, including evenings) is less than 20 per cent, compared to more than 50 per cent for other comparable jurisdictions including Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.102
preschools on public school sites where they are needed the most
preschool fee relief for 3-year-olds in eligible long day care settings
over five years to help address ECEC workforce shortages and support business capability
The NSW Government is committed to boosting access to preschool for every child in New South Wales.
The NSW Government is doubling the number of public preschools, with $769.3 million committed for 100 new preschools on public school sites where they are needed most. It is also investing $60.0 million to fund new and upgraded non-government preschools.
Up to $20.0 million will be invested in the Flexible Initiatives Trial to support ECEC services to expand their existing offering to increase available ECEC hours and places to better meet the needs of families.
The NSW Government will also trial $500 preschool fee relief for 3-year-olds in eligible long day care settings effective January 2024. This measure will support up to 64,000 children and their families. It will complement existing NSW preschool fee relief of $4,220 per year for 3-to-5-year-olds in community and mobile preschools, and $2,110 per year for children aged 4 and above in eligible long day care settings.
ECEC workforce shortages are creating a barrier to future expansion of the sector. The National Skills Commission forecasts 21.6 per cent more early childhood teachers will be required nationally in 2026, compared to 2021.103 Separately, the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority forecast that a 20 per cent increase in the ECEC workforce would be needed nationally over 2018 to 2023.104
The literature identifies comparatively poor pay and conditions, a lack of professional recognition, and few progression opportunities as factors contributing to the ECEC sector’s struggle to attract and retain staff.105
Supporting the ECEC workforce is a key priority for the NSW Government. The Government is investing up to $28.5 million over five years to help address workforce shortages and support business capability.
This includes: $9.0 million in scholarships for ECEC professionals to upskill to a diploma or degree; $10.0 million for professional development to reduce burnout and workforce attrition; $3.0 million for ECEC research to investigate delivery models and strengthen the workforce pipeline; and up to $6.5 million for leadership, management and financial capability development in ECEC.
The NSW Government will also consult with the sector on financial incentives to support the workforce, including a trial to provide free or low-cost ECEC for the children of teachers and educators in the ECEC services in which they work.
There are several major reviews relating to ECEC underway. The Australian Government is currently developing a national Early Years Strategy. Alongside this, the Australian Productivity Commission is undertaking an inquiry into the ECEC sector, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is conducting an inquiry into the market for the supply of childcare services. The NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal is also reviewing the NSW ECEC sector to better understand affordability, accessibility, and consumer choice.
Findings from these reviews will inform ongoing investment in, and reform of, the NSW ECEC sector to ensure the sector delivers positive outcomes for children and provides more opportunities for parents, particularly women, to participate in the workforce.
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