Politics

While Billions Pour Into Male-Dominated Industries, Women Are Being Forgotten

"We had a once in a generation opportunity here to better value women’s contributions through their work in health and in education and care."

construction

As restrictions begin to ease, Australians are starting to think about life after the pandemic.

But while there are some things we’re all looking forward to, there are others that people would prefer not to go back to normal — like the government’s apathy towards women.

Unfortunately it’s not looking good. With talk turning to how we can rebuild our economy, two of the government’s three big announcements have led to more than $2 billion being pumped into the male-dominated construction industry.

The third saw them rip the JobKeeper allowance away from the childcare industry two months early, and end free childcare.

Experts say the contrast shows how male-dominated industries are still being valued more highly than female-dominated industries — despite the pandemic demonstrating just how vital they are.

Rae Cooper is a professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations. She told Junkee the government’s decision makes absolutely no sense.

“There is no vision for what government intends to do to support women’s jobs, and frankly so called ‘shovel ready’ project spending won’t do anything to get women back to work in the most severely affected industries,” she said.

“Women are the majority of workers made unemployed by the COVID-19 crisis, having lost more jobs and more hours than men. They are also the great majority of key workers who have formed the frontline during this crisis, keeping us safe in hospitals and caring for and educating our children in long day care and schools.”

Women Have Borne The Brunt Of The Downturn

Last month the government’s own report noted that women have been left worse-off by the pandemic.

Existing gender inequality means that women are more likely to be found in insecure, casual forms of work; they make up 58 percent of the accommodation and food service industry, and 57 percent of the retail sector.

They account for 72 percent of staff in schools, which have reopened across the country despite concerns over coronavirus transmission.

Women also make up 80 percent of the health and social assistance workforce, putting them on the frontlines of our health crisis.

They are also more likely to shoulder the burden of extra caring responsibilities, like looking after sick family members, taking on teaching roles while schools close, and looking after children.

On top of this, Indigenous women are more likely to be impacted, with research showing they are more likely be be carers than non-Indigenous women.

Scott Morrison even acknowledged women’s contribution in his speech this week, saying the government knows there has been a disproportionate impact on women, young people and those with lower skills attainment.

“(They are) key parts of the Australian community we need to focus on as we prepare and plan our way out and make our way out,” he said.

That just makes the cuts even more baffling.

“It’s hard to see the logic in being the heroes of the crisis at one minute and shoved into the background and having their jobs de-prioritised the next,” Prof Cooper said.

“We had a once in a generation opportunity here to better value women’s contributions through their work in health and in education and care.

“Sadly whilst the community seems to acknowledge the importance of these jobs, this is not reflected in spending and policy announcements to date.”

Billions Poured Into Construction, While Childcare Sees Cuts

On June 4 Scott Morrison announced the $680 million HomeBuilder program to support residential construction. Eleven days later he announced an extra $1.5 billion for priority infrastructure like roads, rail and iron ore projects. They hope this will help create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Meanwhile, the government decided that childcare workers should be the first (and so far only) ones to lose access to the JobKeeper wage subsidy. That’s one of the most female-dominated industries in Australia.

Chief economist Richard Denniss said the government was focusing on male-dominated industries despite clear evidence that women are the ones disproportionately losing their jobs.

New research from The Australia Institute has shown that every million dollars spent on education creates 10.6 jobs for women, while every million dollars spent on construction creates 0.2 jobs for women.

“If the government is serious about maximising the number of jobs it creates, then it needs to focus its stimulus spending on industries like education, health and tourism,” he said.

“While the construction industry has a clear role to play in Australia’s economic recovery, spending taxpayer money on construction will do little to create jobs for the hundreds of thousands of women who have lost their jobs in the services sector.”

Childcare was made free back in April to make sure essential workers could keep going to work. The government also agreed to pay half the operating costs of all childcare centres.

Last week Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced parents will have to start paying again from July 12.

He also revealed that from July 20 JobKeeper will be replaced with a $708 million support package, which will most likely see workers earn “a tiny bit less” than they did under JobKeeper.

No other sector has been put forward to lose the wage subsidy before the September 27 end date.

It’s a no brainer to say that affordable childcare is one of the biggest barriers to women getting back to work.

The decision to back childcare in the first place had come as a surprise to many, considering the Coalition has sat back and watched costs balloon since they were elected in 2013.

Then again, this is the Prime Minister who said he wanted to see women rise, as long as they didn’t rise at the expense of men.


Feature Image: Piqsels