Families, Care-giving and Paid Work

Families, Care-giving and Paid Work

Challenging Labour Law in the 21st Century

Edited by Nicole Busby and Grace James

This unique selection of chapters brings together researchers from a variety of academic disciplines to explore aspects of law’s engagement with working families. It connects academic debate with policy proposals through an integrated set of approaches and perspectives.

Chapter 5: Law’s Response to the Reconciliation of Work and Care: The Australian Case

Sara Charlesworth

Subjects: development studies, family and gender policy, law - academic, european law, family law, labour, employment law, law and society, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, family and gender policy


Sara Charlesworth INTRODUCTION The focus in this chapter is on law’s response to the reconciliation of work, care and family in Australia. As Smith claims, law has a significant role in reflecting, constituting and reinforcing assumptions about the characteristics of ‘ideal workers’ and the separation of work and care but it also has the power to challenge and change such assumptions (2006: 701). A key argument in this chapter is that job quality matters to the gender-equitable reconciliation of work and care. Today, employment and antidiscrimination regulation offer some carer-friendly conditions and protection to workers with caring responsibilities. In practice, however, law’s engagement with work and care has been highly gendered and remains peripheral to the mainstream industrial regulation of employment conditions. As a consequence the part-time work ‘solution’ to managing both work and care has come at the price of poor quality jobs for many women. The interaction of work and care occurs within the context of a specific and dynamic work–care regime that incorporates not only institutional arrangements that shape labour relations and the welfare state, but also the gender order or gender culture with its assumptions about ‘normal’ gender relations, including the division of labour between men and women (Pocock 2005). Work–care regimes sit within a national context and as Lewis (2001) has argued in relation to gender institutional frameworks, they can be assessed in terms of the extent to which particular countries have moved away from the male breadwinner/female homemaker model....

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