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'Hard-hat' focus leaves women behind

  • 29 October 2020
Despite the heavy focus on 'hard-hat' professions in our political discourse, Australia’s economy is dominated by its service sectors. If this is Australia’s first service sector recession, why is this not reflected in the focus of our recovery and job creation programs?

In a history-making poll, two women vie for Queenslanders' votes ahead of election day on 31 October. Nonetheless, women’s employment issues remain largely absent from both the Labor and Liberal National election campaigns.

The nature of the COVID-19 recession is unique in that women dominated sectors (including the arts, hospitality, retail, administration and education) have suffered the worst fallout, bringing with it substantially increased unpaid care work. The impact on women is further exacerbated by the fact that they are more likely to be working in part-time, casual or precarious positions. When the ‘free’ childcare scheme came to an end in July, there were fears the changes would lead to an even larger increase in women’s unemployment.  

In spite of this, the major parties are centreing job creation in traditionally male-dominated industries. Both Palaszczuk and Frecklington have donned hi-vis vests and hard hats for almost every media appearance on the campaign trail. Much less visible has been any targeted strategies addressing women’s employment, or economic recovery for the arts, tourism, and social services.

It seems the major state parties in Queensland are intent on making the same mistakes as the Morrison government’s federal budget, begging the question: Why are our politicians failing to focus on whom the pandemic has hit the hardest?

In the weeks following the budget announcement earlier this month, advocates and analysts responded with criticism over the heavy focus on job creation in male-dominated industries to bring us out of recession. Social Services Liberal Minister Anne Ruston dismissed criticisms, saying, ‘every single measure in the budget is available for women.’ 

'Service work (arts and recreation, hospitality, professional and technical services) and care work are still overwhelmingly undervalued, despite the economy depending on it.'

Notably, the budget brought no relief to families facing significant financial uncertainty. No strategies were included to make childcare more affordable, despite Australia having the fourth-most expensive childcare system in the world.

A report from the McKell Institute released this month showed us that mothers are working for $1 an hour or less when they work more than three days a week as a result of ‘cliffs’ in current childcare rebates. The report concludes that Child Care Subsidy reforms