In less than a decade the research focus and policy interest in the area of work and family has dramatically intensified in Australia. There is now a plethora of research on work and family emanating from a variety of social science disciplines, including industrial relations, political science, the law, sociology and health. The aim of this workshop is not to merely continue the debate or to reiterate the arguments within academia alone. Rather, the aim is to provide a forum in which researchers and relevant policy makers can enter a dialogue about the effectiveness of past and exiting policies and about the implications of current research findings, with the intent of producing specific options for the policy agendas at government and organisational levels and which will enable working parents to find a suitable balance between work and family. Through their own research, the convenors have established positive relationships with policy makers in the field and this Workshop will provide an opportunity to foster more inter-disciplinary links as well as greater integration with policy makers.

In a period of profound social, economic and demographic shifts, the work-family balance is increasingly significant for Australian men and women as well as the organisations for which they work. Both the Commonwealth and the state governments play an important role, as do organisations and the trade union movement, in developing and setting work and family policy agendas. A range of work and family issues, especially maternity and parental leave, have gained academic and political prominence in recent years. These issues have risen to prominence alongside other significant social changes that are also occurring, such as the increase in female labour force and higher education participation rates, the increase in working time pressures, a declining birth-rate and an ageing population. In turn, these changes have been associated with the ongoing erosion of the previously predominant ‘male full-time breadwinner/female full-time housewife’ family model in Australia and have given rise to considerable debate about the implications for industrial relations, gender equity and social cohesion. By 2000 only 27 per cent of couple families with dependents fitted such a traditional ‘breadwinner’ model and dual earner families are now the norm. As a result of these shifts, the notion of the ‘ideal worker’ as a fulltime male is being challenged, as is the notion that ‘ideal work’ is characterized by standard hours of ‘face-time’ at the workplace. The ‘downstream’ implications for children, the child care industry and child care workers of all these changes are now also surfacing as major policy concerns.

Working parents are coping with multiple care, time, financial and health pressures and because the entitlements to which they currently have access are gendered, the impact on women and men varies markedly. This suggests that greater attention needs to given to ways of equalizing both access to, and utilization of, parental leave policies. Organisations too, are under pressure to adopt and adapt human resource management policies that enable them to attract and retain employees of both sexes, and to assist their employees in balancing their work and family commitments. Yet despite the progress that has been made, there is some concern that organisational level policies, for a variety of reasons, are not utilized to the extent anticipated. Governments are similarly urged to address these issues through new policies, for example paid maternity leave and more flexible care arrangements.

In summary, considerable social science research from a range of perspectives is currently addressing the work-family issue. With this in mind and against the background of major societal changes referred to above, there is a need for an integrated, revised and refreshed policy agenda around work and family. It is the aim of the Workshop to provide the environment to link the research and policy agendas and to provide the impetus and environment to do this.

Four Workshop themes will each one addressing a particular aspect the work and family research and policy agendas:

  1. Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leave in Australia
  2. Work-Family Policies at the Workplace
  3. Work-Family Policy and Worker’s Wellbeing
  4. Child Care Policy and Children’s Wellbeing.