We need realistic leave entitlements for parents. Like, you know, head-lice leave.

This writer knows that getting women back to work is dependent on more than cheaper childcare. What we really need is leave to go to swimming carnivals, op shops and to fight with our partners…

The Productivity Commission’s report into childcare was tabled in Parliament on Friday.

The 1000-page report suggests that changes to childcare affordability would see a 1.2 percent rise in female work participation, bringing 16,400 workers back into the workforce and boosting the economy by $1.3 billion in the first year alone.

I think we can do a lot better than that. Don’t you?

“Getting women back to work is dependent on more than cheaper child care.”

There’s a great un-tapped army of female workers out there who would happily work more hours if the right Leave Entitlements were in place.

I’m talking here about granting leave for the things that simply can’t be outsourced to nannies, daycare or after-school care.

Here are some late recommendations for the Productivity Commission to consider, incorporating case studies from our qualitative research team.

Proposal 1: Head-lice leave.

The horrors of head lice.

Case study 1: Kate* has three children.

Two of them are girls with thick and/or curly hair. Head-lice treatment must be repeated at least three times for every outbreak. Her husband could help, but he’s always at work.

Ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away is not an option for Kate’s family.

They have tried this before and it results in a phone call from the school, resulting in lost productivity for the children.

Recommendation: 3 days head-lice treatment leave per year for the first child, with an extra day for subsequent children. A full week off work and a free hair straightener if Mum has caught head-lice too.

Proposal 2: Op-shop leave.

Op shopping leave? Yes please.

Case study 2: Sandra* loves to browse the op shops when her children are at school. It’s a bit like meditation for her.

She can’t go op shopping on Saturdays, because she’s always rushing around to different kids’ sporting activities. She can’t go op-shopping on Sundays because the op shops are closed.

She can’t take the children with her, because they complain about being bored.

Sandra especially enjoys buying clothing two sizes smaller than her actual size.

This has benefits for her health and fitness motivation. Fit people are more productive.


Recommendation: 4 hours op-shop leave per week. Extra if attending a fancy-dress party that weekend.

Read more: Chrissy Swan on being a working mum

Proposal 3: Swimming carnival leave.

Swimming carnival leave is just as important.

(As you will see in the following three case studies, the issues around swimming carnivals are varied and complex. Different families have very different needs.)

Case study 3a: Alison* has four olive-skinned children.

They would like Alison to attend the swimming carnival because ‘every other mother comes to the swimming carnival’, but Alison believes not attending every carnival will build resilience.

Also, nobody’s looking at getting a place this year.

Case study 3b: Simone’s* Scottish heritage means her children are extremely fair-skinned.

The school does its best to remind them to re-apply sunscreen, but they still come home with terrible sunburn.

On very sunny days, Simone knows she will need to attend carnivals to be her children’s sunscreen advocate.

Case study 3c: Felicity* has a very sporty daughter who wins every event at every carnival.

“Different families have very different needs.”

At her child’s school, there is a pecking order when it comes to the volunteer jobs on carnival day.

Felicity dreams of being on the red pencils. That’s the job where she gets to give the second-place pencil to every girl her daughter thrashes.

It takes years of volunteering on the teacher coffee-run before you get anywhere near the pencil jobs.

Recommendations: The key here is flexibility. For some families, Swimming Carnival Leave is a necessity, especially for those whose children make it through to the Zone Carnival. For others, it’s an option. Some would prefer to take leave for the Cross Country event.

The Commission might consider creating a more flexible package of ‘Sidelines’ leave.

Read more: Hands up if you dreaded the swimming carnival?

Proposal 4: Work out where to send your kid to high-school leave.

Case study 4: Rebecca* is fortunate in that she lives in an area with excellent local public high schools.

She needs to go and look at all of them because Rebecca’s son is so gifted and talented, he will need to apply for several ‘special programs’.

The local high schools all hold their information sessions on weekday mornings from 9-11am.

You need time to work out the best high school for your child.

She will probably apply for several schools. There will be lots of paperwork involved.

– Five mornings of high-school-touring leave.
– Two days of paperwork leave. Extra leave provision for the organisationally challenged of ‘looking-everywhere-in-the-study-for-last-year’s-NAPLAN-results’ leave.
– Half an hour (daily) of doubt leave.
– Two hours a week of public justification leave, preferably taken in a group, at a café, or walking around the local suburb wearing a pedometer.

Proposal 5: Fight-with-your-partner leave.

Case study 5: Cathy* tried to have an argument with her husband one Sunday morning about spinach.

Cathy’s husband Sean* got annoyed with Cathy for using the spinach in her omelette because he’d bought the spinach especially to use in his green smoothies.

Cathy became instantly furious and a little bit heartbroken because she felt like her husband was treating her like a flat-mate, rather than a soul-mate.

When you fight with your husband over his green smoothie habit, you deserve time off.

But it was Sunday. And the family wanted to go for a bike ride.

Cathy realised she didn’t have time to have a proper, sulking fight with her husband because they both had to work all week and this was the only time they had to spend together as a family.

Recommendation: Fight-with-your-partner leave should be awarded on a case-by-case basis.

Some women will only require one hour a week.

Others will require four consecutive days once a year. For others, it may be practical for leave to be taken at exactly the same time each month

While the case studies above reflect some of the biggest challenges to increased female work participation, our qualitative research team has identified some areas that may require further modelling by the Department of Social Services.

– Vet leave
– School assembly leave
– Book-week costume making leave
– Slow cooking leave
– List-making leave
– Monitoring your 12-year-old’s Instagram account leave
– Getting the eight-year-old to soccer practise at 4.30pm on a Tuesday leave
– Sock-matching leave
– Canteen duty leave
– Dance ensemble hairstyles leave
– Managing a child’s sporting team leave
– Explaining puberty to your nine-year-old leave
– New tyres on the car leave
– Finding lost library books leave
– Notes-from-school leave
– Covering school workbooks in Contact without getting bubbles leave
– Finding a new mobile phone plan leave
– Writing thank you notes leave
– Sitting at home, alone, collecting your thoughts leave
– Hanging out with your younger sister who is on maternity leave leave
– Digitally archiving the family photos leave
– Intimacy with significant other while children are at school leave
– Birthday present shopping leave
– Helping with homework leave
– Checking every label on every product in the supermarket for Hep A leave.

While it has been suggested that some of these activities could be undertaken on weekends, our research team has already tracked a downward trend in weekend trade, as more and more parents are forced to spend Saturday evenings making school lunches.

There has been a significant upswing, however, in the figures for take-home alcohol sales.

* Names have been changed for privacy reasons. Lots of these women are me. Some are not. Felicity – the red pencil lady – she’s definitely not me.