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Put subsidised childcare and regulated working week on election agenda: academics

Enforcement of the 38-hour working week and providing two days a week of subsidised childcare for all parents are among a series of workforce recommendations made by a national network of public policy experts from 16 universities.

These recommendations, tabled in Work, Care and Family Policies: Election Benchmarks 2016, produced by the Work and Family Policy Roundtable, come after the federal government put its childcare subsidies package on ice until 2018.

The Fair Work Ombudsman already caps the working week at 38 hours unless “the additional hours are reasonable”. The Roundtable’s report recommended the 38-hour week be regulated and properly enforced. It also recommended strengthening a worker’s right to request flexibility in scheduling. It also called for casuals to gain access to carers and personal leave.

Many academics reportedly work 49.5 hours a week. This could be driven by a passion for their research, though there is evidence it could also be due to the increasing administrative burden placed on these staff.

Professor Zdenka Kuncic, co-director of the University of Sydney’s new nanoscience hub, said the working week isn’t the issue, at least in her workplace, as “most of us research all hours of the day and night, because we’re generally interested in it”. Rather, Kuncic said, the real issue is academia’s publish-or-perish culture, under which academics feel forced to churn out published research to advance careers or even just to keep their jobs.

“You just can’t afford to lose any time out of that and once you do, you become immediately non-competitive,” she explained. “Most women take time out to have children at some point in their careers and that’s the time that they, unfortunately, become most vulnerable.”

Regarding childcare policy, Kuncic suggested Australia should take our cues from European nations.

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