Want a productivity gain? Start by improving access to childcare: treasurers

State and territory treasurers have urged the federal government to deal with the pressures on the nation’s jobs market by increasing the availability of childcare, fast-tracking skilled migrants and solving a shortage of workers in the care sector.

In a submission to the government’s employment white paper, the board of treasurers said reducing barriers to work including giving parents better access to early childhood education would improve productivity and employment.

Improved access to early childhood education, including out-of-hours care, is vital for improved workplace participation.

Ryan Stuart

“High-quality, accessible and affordable early childhood education and care are critical not only for early childhood development but also for increasing workforce participation, improving gender pay equity and creating a more inclusive workforce,” the treasurers said.

On Saturday, federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers will release all 400 submissions to the white paper that was promised after last year’s jobs and skills summit.

“The submissions we’ve received have been really encouraging,” Chalmers said.

“While we can’t implement every good suggestion, we take these contributions seriously and we’re really grateful to everyone who took the time to make a submission.

“This feedback will help to shape the white paper and the policies that we put in place as we look to build a bigger, better-trained, more productive workforce.”

Earlier this week, Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy revealed the white paper is likely to canvass options to reduce the high financial penalties faced by women and those on welfare who want to work an extra day.

The board of treasurers, made up of every state or territory treasurer, said the federal government needs to work out how to increase the availability of affordable childcare and improve access to out-of-hours childcare and school holiday programs in areas with limited options.

The board said access to care – be it early childhood education, disability care or aged care – affects who can participate in the workforce. It also said that Australia needs a dedicated strategy to address worker shortages, high staff turnover and low pay across the care sector.

“These issues restrict workforce participation via two avenues: firstly by discouraging female participation in these jobs, and secondly, by making it difficult for parents and carers to get access to adequate care service,” the treasurers said.

The treasurers said migration is a vital part of Australia’s economy and the right mix would help ease skills and worker shortages.

They suggested improving recognition of international qualifications, streamlining pathways for temporary visa holders, getting rid of occupation lists for migrants and potentially introducing new visa classes and speeding up visa processing times.

“Migration is integral to ensure Australia has the right skills to support our economy and drive future growth by easing critical skill and labour shortages,” the treasurers said.

“It is particularly important to have highly skilled migrants to support economic growth, boost wages for all Australians, and assist with budget repair. However, it is also important to ensure that migration settings do not negatively impact the labour market outcomes for local workers.”

The board of treasurers said the white paper was also an important opportunity to look at ways to address employment challenges for First Nations people and those who live in regional and rural areas.

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