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Itís about time: women, men, work and family

By John von Doussa - posted Wednesday, 14 March 2007

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s two years of research, investigation and discussion with Australian families, employers and community organisations has told us that Australians don’t have enough time - specifically, enough time to spend with and care for their families.

The need for care is universal - we will all need care and support at some point in our lives and most of us will also provide care to others.

It’s About Time: Women, men, work and family proposes a new framework to support men and women as workers and carers across the life cycle.


Existing legal protections for workers with family responsibilities are limited, and HREOC believes that a new specialised Act is the best way of improving legal protection for workers with family and carer responsibilities.

The paper does not put forward a law that is already fully developed, as we believe this legislation must be drafted in consultation with key stakeholders - particularly employers and the community. It must be an Act that works for business as well as families.

However, the proposed Family Responsibilities and Carers’ Rights Act would contain a number of key features.

The Act should include a right for workers to request flexible work arrangements to meet family or carer responsibilities, and to have their request reasonably considered. The right should be available to all men and women workers.

While HREOC acknowledges that the “right to request” will impose some additional obligations on employers, it is important to emphasise the limited nature of this new entitlement. This law aims to ensure there are no obligations on an employer who is unable to meet the request due to genuine operational reasons beyond the duty to reasonably consider the request.

HREOC believes this law is a key part of helping working Australians to strike a better balance between paid work and family life.


It is law which will reduce risks for business by clarifying their obligations to their employees with family responsibilities. It will offer guidance for business on how to deal with employees requesting flexibility at work. And it will also help employees know how to ask for that flexibility.

HREOC envisages that the “right to request” would operate along similar lines to the UK’s right to request legislation, enshrined in their Employment Rights Act 1996 and amendments due to come into effect in April this year.

The UK legislation provides for parents with children under the age of six, or parents of disabled children under 18, the right to apply to work flexibly and from next month extends the right to request flexible working conditions to carers of adults.

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About the Author

The Hon John von Doussa QC is the President, Acting Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

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All articles by John von Doussa

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