Supporting Flexible Work
Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Mr Gupta for bringing this motion before the Assembly today. I rise to speak in full support.
This motion calls upon the ACT Government to continue supporting flexible work arrangements for ACT public servants where it suits them and their directorates. It also asks the chief minister to request the same of the Commonwealth Government.
Madam Speaker, as the Shadow Minister for Families and Youth, I specifically want to address the benefits for parents and children that can come from flexible work arrangements. According to the 2019 National Working Families Survey, 62 per cent of Australia’s workers struggle to maintain their physical and psychological health specifically because of difficulty in balancing family and work pressures. In the same survey, nearly half of working parents and carers reported that they would like to have more control over when and where they work in order to better navigate the demands of employment and family.
In short, working parents typically want to be good, productive, reliable employees. They also want to be there for their kids – to love, support, comfort, train, inspire, and listen to them. Flexible work arrangements can do much to secure both outcomes. Brett Jager, a senior global relationship manager at an Australian bank, has written about how important it is to him as a father that he is able to be his best both at home and in the office.
And that means that sometimes his office is his home. As he has explained, quote, ‘On days when I don’t have meetings with colleagues or clients, I’ll try and work from home. This allows me to spend more time with my two kids in the morning, and in the afternoon when I’m able to pick them up and talk about their days’. Madam Speaker, if it’s good enough for a senior bank manager, it should be good enough for the rest of us, including those who work in the territory’s public service.
We already know that kids benefit from having close, frequent interactions with their parents. They tend to be healthier, both physically and emotionally. They do better at school. They are less likely to get in trouble. They feel safe, secure, loved, and valued. Parents and carers who are enabled to secure a healthy work/life balance enjoy similar benefits. Research from the Productivity Commission clearly found that ‘parents with formalised flexible working arrangements experienced much better mental health outcomes’.
The best part, Madam Speaker, is that none of this has to come at a cost to the employer. Flexible work arrangements are linked through reliable research to reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, reduced staff turnover and its associated training costs, as well as increased morale and job satisfaction. Mercy Health, a not-for-profit aged and healthcare provider, reports that it has actually been able to save $23 million per year from having flexible work arrangements in place.
But the real benefits are to be realised in the strength of our families. And as we all know, strong families are the basic building blocks of any successful society. What happens in the home – or, just as importantly, what doesn’t happen – has impacts that leave the home and spread out across neighbourhoods and whole communities.
Unfortunately, even when flexible work arrangements are available, many times working parents have felt reluctant to take advantage of them. Forty-six per cent of respondents in last year’s National Working Families Survey reported feeling that requesting family-friendly work arrangements would be frowned on by their employers, with many respondents noting that this was a bigger problem for dads than for mums.
It is my hope, Madam Speaker, that our experiences from the past few months can help change the culture. We have been forced to work in different ways – many of which have directly benefitted families, allowing parents and children to spend more time together. Going forward, we need to leave old prejudices aside and allow working parents the flexibility they need to be both excellent parents and excellent employees. Thank you.