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Published 11 February 2013 07:29, Updated 11 February 2013 11:52
The inflexible nature of childcare means that all hell breaks loose if an employer decides to make changes to working hours or days of work. Photo:iStock.com
At my local primary school there is a waiting list of more than 100 families for after-school care.
In playground chatter I’ve heard it said that, this year, virtually none of the already enrolled children are moving on and there are only places for about seven new boys and girls. That is in a school of about 800 children.
This puts many families in a dilemma, especially those with two working parents. The January rush to find nannies is on, but they are often university students who don’t get their own timetables until February.
Other parents rely on flexible hours, which allow them to make it to the school gates on time. Some have to give up their jobs.
The inflexible nature of childcare leads to deep complications if an employer decides to change an employee’s working hours or days of work. If a part-timer is asked to swap their Monday shift for a Friday, this could mean losing a place in after-school care, or losing a nanny.
Even a temporary change could mean trying to get emergency care (at a premium price) or leaning on friends, neighbours or family – in the event they are willing and able to help.
This is why it is good news that Prime Minister Julia Gillard says her government will extend some protection from last minute roster changes to parents.
“[We will] talk about ways in which we can help working people if they’re faced with a roster change,” she told reporters in New Zealand at the weekend.
“People make all sorts of arrangements for work, knowing what their roster is, building their childcare around it and when rosters change that can be very difficult.
“During the course of the week we will be talking about protection from roster changes.”
It was also reported that Gillard said parents returning to work from maternity or paternity leave would have the right to request part-time work or flexible hours and that employers would have to respond.
However, those arrangements are already in place under the Fair Work Act.
Employers have to respond within 21 days and can refuse on reasonable business grounds.
Gillard emphasised that her proposals were about changing behaviour and reminding people that it is okay to ask for flexibility at work.
If nothing else, it does not hurt to also remind managers that life cannot always accommodate the demands of work and that changes to rosters can sometimes discriminate against people with caring responsibilities.
However, it is also gratifying to hear that most employers are willing to help. Gillard says 80 per cent of requests from employees for flexible hours are approved.