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Call for new Carers Leave entitlements

Man and Woman on Bench Seat
Image: matthew bennet – unsplash

Many of our middle-aged workers are now leaving the workforce to care for their ageing parents, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018). Sydney based organisation Your Side, is calling for a review of carers leave.

Currently the recommendation is a leave scheme similar to paid parental leave which will assist carers to stay in the workforce.  While this is still in its early stages, the number of workers leaving the workforce to take on a carer role is concerning.  As carers leave the workforce they struggle financially and emotionally.  While government subsidised care services are in place, they are not in reach of where carers actually need them.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia has:

  • 2.65 million informal carers providing care to those who have a disability.
  • carers providing for those aged 65 or older.
  • around twelve per cent of carers that are women and more than two-thirds that are providing care to a parent are aged 45 or older.
  • almost sixty per cent of primary carers that are less likely to be working.

For the majority of carers, options in the workforce are limited, with some reducing their working hours or others leaving the workforce to take on carer responsibilities. Financially carers have a reduced income and superannuation.  For others who leave the workforce, it can place them in a position of financial hardship, longer term it can leave them asset poor and place them at high risk financially.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that this affects those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, young people and women.

With the number of people dropping out of the workforce, it is costing the government through loss of taxes and increases in welfare payments.   Many long-term carers who leave the workforce entirely are unlikely to return.  With the provision of a Carers Leave Scheme, workers would be provided with options to continue in the workforce, increasing income for the government through taxes and carers not becoming a strain on the public purse, which would be welcomed by the government given its current stance on keeping people in the workforce longer.

Carers that are currently employed have a Personal/Carers Leave Scheme in place with their employer which provides for some entitlements.  Workers with ongoing carer responsibilities have the right to formally request flexible working arrangements from their employer, however, employers have the right to reject the request based on reasonable business grounds. 

To overcome existing issues with carer leave entitlements there are a number of strategies that can be implemented with both government and employer support.  Carers need to be made aware of their entitlements to leave and requests for flexible working hours.  Employers must be open to change, forward-thinking companies are implementing their own carers leave schemes as it keeps existing workers in the workplace reducing costs in terms of staff turnover.  These leave entitlements allow workers to take extended time off, this is similar to the model being suggested under a Carers Leave Scheme.

By leveraging the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, carers would be able to stay in the workforce longer and enable them to access supports and transition carer arrangements if and when required.  To assist in access to supports the government needs to put in place practices to improve access for carers to existing government subsidised care services.