Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Not the Baby and the Bathwater - Regulatory Reform for Equality Laws to Address Work-Family Conflict

Sydney Law Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, 2006

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 06/39

45 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2006  

Belinda Smith

The University of Sydney Law School


Work-family balance is clearly on the corporate agenda, with a plethora of corporate initiatives being promoted as family-friendly across Australia. But what regulatory mechanisms - public or private - are in place to prompt, facilitate and universalise such corporate initiatives to integrate more fully those employees who undertake both paid work and unpaid, domestic caring responsibilities? And, just as importantly, what accountability mechanisms are available to ensure that such initiatives achieve this goal rather than simply perform a public relations exercise.

With the Work Choices transformation of the Australian industrial relations landscape we have seen the federal government confirm that it is not willing to regulate for family-friendly worker entitlements or workplace conditions directly, instead relying upon market and social forces to deliver outcomes within a decentralised regulatory framework. If we acknowledge the current political reality that legislation and awards are not likely to be used to establish family-friendly work conditions such as part-time and flexible hours, paid parental leave and family leave, what alternative regulatory mechanisms are available?

Given the gender dimension of work-family conflict, our federal sex equality laws - Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (Cth) - have proven to be of some use in prompting greater family-friendliness in workplaces. However, the regulatory tools offered by these laws are not up to the task. In this article, I draw on new regulatory scholarship to explain the weaknesses of our current equality laws, and then to propose a new regulatory model that holds promise for better prompting, facilitating and holding accountable corporate initiatives to establish sustainable, family-friendly work environments.

Keywords: Australian, equality laws, regulatory reform, work-family conflict, family-friendly work practices, sex discrimination, family responsibilities discrimination, ideal worker, responsive regulation

JEL Classification: K30, D63, J24, J17, J71

Suggested Citation

Smith, Belinda, Not the Baby and the Bathwater - Regulatory Reform for Equality Laws to Address Work-Family Conflict. Sydney Law Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, 2006; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 06/39. Available at SSRN:

Belinda M. Smith (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

Paper statistics

Abstract Views