• Georgina te Heuheu
Women's Affairs

I am very pleased to join with my colleague Hon Roger Sowry today for the launch of Childcare, Families and Work, for this is an important publication.

The title indicates why. It embodies those elements of New Zealanders lives that matter most, namely their families and children and their ability to contribute to the greater good through effective participation in the labour gmarket.

The provision of an adequate level of childcare that enables parents to work according to preferences that allow them to balance family responsibilities with their work commitments, is critical to the proper functioning of our communities and to our ability to sustain a strong and vibrant economy.

I am an advocate for strong families building strong communities and strong communities building a strong nation. There are many facets to that equation not the least, those that now come together in this very comprehensive survey, and particularly the role and position of women.

It is a historical fact that women have and do take the "lion's" share of childcare responsibilities. While in this enlightened age, men may be playing a greater role, the childcare survey clearly shows that employed mothers are more likely than fathers to take time off work to care for sick children or to be with their children during the school holidays.

Reliable care arrangements for children are essential if mothers are to enter and retain employment. If the right type of care at the right hours and the right price are not available to women, their ability to enter or stay in the labour market is seriously compromised. This means access to employment is not a level playing field for women. In particular for single mothers, who are likely to have fewer resources and fewer options for sharing care, an additional hurdle must be overcome.

It also means that advancing the position of women relative to men in the labour market is still going to be difficult as women are still more likely to opt to meet their family responsibilities first and then to fit paid work in around that.

Part-time work has traditionally been a solution to mothers juggling work and family responsibilities, yet the survey found that parents in part-time work were three times more likely than parents in full-time work to have experienced a childcare related barrier to their employment in the previous 12 months. Twenty eight per cent of mothers in part-time work found this. Most commonly, they had not been able to look for a job or change their hours due to childcare issues.

The findings of the childcare survey are in line with previous research carried out by the Ministry of Women's Affairs. In 1993 the Ministry promoted a nationwide employee phone-in. They asked questions about managing work and family responsibilities. Of the more than 1,000 people who phoned in, nearly half had a child or children under the age of five years and 42 percent had a child aged 5 to 9 years. Callers highlighted the difficulty of balancing family and work responsibilities as a delicate juggling act that required constant adjustment, made worse for those under financial stress. Key themes were the availability of care services and the extent to which women carry the bulk of the responsibility for care arrangements.

Picking up on this issue, the childcare survey has provided some interesting insights into how this juggling act is actually carried out in workplaces. Nearly one in ten mothers (and 14% of sole parents) have their children with them while they work. Parents also seek flexibility in their work patterns that enable them to still manage their childcare responsibilities. These include working in the evenings, seeking flexible work hours, working at home, and working at weekends.

What we still don't know is the extent to which parents choose part-time employment or particular work conditions to help them manage their childcare responsibilities. Further analysis of the data may tease out some of these issues, but it is, as any parent will tell you, a complex web.

This Government is committed to identifying and addressing barriers which make it difficult for parents, particularly women to better balance their desire or need to work, with their family responsibilities, their desire to maintain strong and stable families.
The value of a survey such as this is that it focuses with greater clarity on the nature of those barriers and in doing so points the way for work still to be done. Mostly, Government wants to be assured that our responses to education, social and labour market issues are responses that support our families to independence and security.

Good decisions can only be made on the basis of good information. That's what we have here and I want to thank and commend the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women, the Department of Labour and Statistics New Zealand for their work in bringing this to such a challenging outcome.