By Ross B. Taylor
Tony Abbott’s pitch to young women with his paid parental leave scheme may prove highly attractive to young families desperately in need of maintaining their income stream whilst wanting to ensure their new child has the best care possible.
Australia not only faces a severe skills shortage in a number of states, but also the reality of many young families facing both financial and lifestyle stress as they battle to raise a family whilst earning enough money to pay their bills.
Currently in Australia there are 2.3 million couples with dependent children at home and there are over 900,000 single parents raising children under the age of 15, with almost 40% of mothers’ either unemployedor under-employed due to their desire or need to care for their children. ABS data shows that in 2009-2010, parents of 89,000 children had ‘unmet’ day care needs. The cost and availability of day-care also impacts on young families and can be very expensive, reaching up to $650.00 per week per child.
There is a program that has worked well in Asia, Europe and North America for many years that could go a long way to addressing these issues here in Australia:
Enter the foreign nanny or Au Pair worker.
Ask any couple, who have just returned from working overseas as ‘expats’, what do they miss most after returning to Australia? Usually they will say they miss having a live-in maid or nanny.
Australia does allow nannies – mostly young people from Europe - to work in Australia, and despite the scheme being very restrictive, business is booming. As reported recently, the demand for maid-services has increased 8.25% in the past year, yet the industry is still very much in its infancy due to the requirement that the maids be paid the full Australian-based wage; something that usually proves prohibitive to most young families.
A ‘live-in’ maid who was engaged on more realistic conditions would release a significant number of skilled workers (mostly mums’)back into the workforce whilst providing families with peace-of-mind that their children, and the housekeeping, was in good hands.
Both The Philippines and Indonesia have thousands of well-trained maids who speak fluent English -and have looked after expat families who would come here tomorrow if they were offered the chance, and the visas required, to work in Australia with families.
Let’s assume Australia has become mature enough to allow Asian maids to come into our country. It could work like this:
· A maid would be paid around $200.00 per week whilst in Australia. This is 200% higher than they would earn back home.
· The host family would pay a bond to the Australian Government.
· The maid would need to have had a minimum of three years experience working for an ‘ex-pat’ family and have ‘acceptable’English language skills.
· They would need to have good references.
· They would need to be covered by private medical insurance at the host family’s expense.
· Each maid would live-in and their food and work clothing would be provided by the family.
· The maid would be entitled to every Sunday off, and each year a return airfare to their home country for two weeks.
The advantage for these guest workers would be:
· The ability to earn a significantly higher wage than in their own country, and thus be able to send money home.
· To learn and build on their English language skills that can help in their future careers.
· To experience life in Australia thus improving cultural understanding between our countries.
· Their government support of such programs.
The advantage for Australia is obvious:
· Immediate reduction in the demand for child care facilities.
· Under-employed, and unemployed, parents could go back into the workforce if they wish.
· For parents wanting to stay at home, quality time could be spent with their children instead of cleaning, cooking and washing dishes!
· Children feeling more secure within their home environment.
· The release of a significant number of skilled Australian workers back into the work force.
· A dramatic reduction in government support benefits at a time when the federal budget is under intense pressure.
So what are the disadvantages of such a program?
· Domestic violence against maids is not common, but it could happen.
· Australia’s egalitarian culture means some may find it difficult to have a live-in guest in their home.
· Being seen to underpay and exploit foreign workers.
· Potential for maids overstaying their visa.
The whole nanny-maid concept would, therefore need to be introduced under a clear and comprehensive policy framework. But a program that releases many skilled Australians back into the workforce, improves the quality and financial wellbeing of thousands of young families whilst relieving the federal purse of a growing and large cost burden, is a program that is worth talking about.
As to whether this federal government, with deep affiliations to the union movement, and our wider community would have the maturity and desire to engage in a rational and considered discussion about the use of foreign maids from Asia is another matter.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the chairman of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc.)
(This article originally appeared in The Australian Newspaper on Saturday 20th July 2013)