Australian Retailers Association (ARA) chief executive Paul Zahra said while there’s always more to do in this space, it’s “a positive start”.
“Women are the backbone of the retail workforce,” he said. “There is a clear focus on women as part of this year’s Budget – and that’s long overdue.”
Women’s safety – at home and at work
Preventing domestic and family violence is a key area of focus for government, given two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former co-habiting partner reported the violence had started or escalated since the pandemic began.
A national plan on women’s safety will focus on preventing violence, delivering frontline services and providing financial support for women leaving a violent relationship.
National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb said this was “a really good thing” for the retail industry.
“Fifty-five per cent [of employees in retail] are women, a third of our industry employees are youths and we have the highest demographic of women that are most likely to experience domestic and family violence,” Lamb told Inside Retail.
The Budget has also set aside $20.5 million to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment, including the implementation of the 2020 Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report.
Tackling the gender pay gap
Plans to increase female participation in the workforce and close the gender pay gap will be boosted by an additional $1.9 billion in measures to support women’s economic security.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the full-time gender pay gap in retail is 13.8 per cent in retail, compared to 20.1 per cent across all industries.
“Addressing the gender pay gap is an ongoing battle and it’s unclear how big of an impact the measures announced in this year’s Budget will have, however we do welcome the measures to improve women’s workforce participation and economic security,” Zahra told Inside Retail.
The government also lists advancing women’s leadership as a key priority and is expanding the Women’s Leadership and Development Program by $38.3 million.
“This program funds innovative projects which assist women into leadership roles and improves outcomes for women more broadly,” the Budget statement reads.
Childcare supports a boost for families
The government also expects that a $1.7 billion investment to improve the affordability of childcare will better support families and increase women’s workforce participation. An increase to the child care subsidy will be provided for second and subsequent children aged five and under and the annual cap on child care subsidy payments will be removed for all.
“[This investment] has the potential to add up to 300,000 hours of work per week, which would allow the equivalent of around 40,000 individuals to work an extra day per week, and boost GDP by up to $1.5 billion per year. These changes strengthen our economy and provide greater choice to parents who want to work an extra day or two a week,” the Budget reads.
Lamb said the access to childcare subsidies will give women the freedom to create their own businesses and participate economically.
“It frees women up to be able to return to the workforce and to gain financial independence, and also to engage within our space,” she said.
Removal of super threshold to help lower paid
The Budget also removes the $450 per month threshold under which employers do not have to pay the superannuation guarantee, which is expected to help those on lower incomes and in casual roles.
Zahra said this move will boost the retirement nest eggs for people on lower incomes.
“The Retirement Income Review estimated that around 300,000 individuals would receive additional superannuation guarantee payments each month, 63 per cent of whom are women,” he told Inside Retail.
While Lamb said this will be a positive for many, she added that it will also add further financial strain to businesses.
“That is going to increase costs for businesses when it comes to labour, it’s certainly going to add pressure at this time, however, on the flip side it is going to mean that some people are preparing for retirement much earlier and will benefit people down the track,” she said.
Debby Blakey CEO of Australian superannuation fund HESTA sees it as a positive step, and believes it will help improve financial security for women, casual and part-time workers and the lower paid.
“It’s a key equity measure that super is paid on every dollar earned,” Blakey said.
However, she said there’s still a long way to go with the fact that super is still not paid on parental leave “a glaring gap” in the system.
“For too long, Australian women have paid the ‘motherhood penalty’ for the time they take out of the workforce to care for children. More needs to be done to improve their retirement outcomes. Paying super on paid parental leave is an easy and obvious fix.”