Bernadette Elliot (above left) mother of four Food and Beverage Services Grand Pacific Hotel
A mother of four, Bernadette Elliot, works eight hours a day, six days a week in food and beverage services at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva.
As she readily admits, it can be “very complicated” to go to work and leave the children at home.
“It is very hard to get a babysitter,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t turn up, which is why my husband has to stay home to look after the kids.”
Bernadette’s predicament as an employee in Fiji is shared by many. A new IFC report, Tackling Childcare: The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare in Fiji, shows only about eight percent of parents with pre-school age children use a formal childcare service.
Despite one in 10 Fijians being under the age of five, options for formal childcare services are limited in Fiji and there’s no regulations covering the provision of services for children under five years of age. Most parents, whether they work in the public or private sector, rely on family members or unqualified babysitters to care for their children while they’re at work.
“You have to do a lot of juggling in your mind when your children are away from you,” said Atlesh Sharma, a father of three and team leader in financial reporting at Fiji National Provident Fund.
The Struggle of the Juggle
The report clearly highlights the struggles parents face in juggling work and care for their children. Based on surveys of more than 2,700 employees – from the public and private sectors – the report shows the biggest concerns of working parents were for their child’s safety, nutrition and health.
About two thirds of working parents were worried about their children’ safety even when there was no evidence to suggest the child was at risk. Many parents raised concerns about the food being offered to their babies or young children, reflecting wider concerns among parents about the skills, education and training of most caregivers.
Few parents have back-up options if their family member or babysitter fail to show up to work, or if their child becomes ill. In the words of one female employee, “babysitters tend to dictate things at home. We go with it because we need the babysitter, otherwise we can’t go to work.”
Turning up late to work or leaving early, missing work, or being distracted at work through worry about their child, was common among parents – all contributing factors to care-related absenteeism.
Overall, 82 percent of parents of school age children reported their care responsibilities impacted their work. “You are not fully at work 100%, or at home 100%,” said Artika Lal, a mother of two from Westpac of the difficulties faced as a working parent.
The report estimates that employers – public and private – are losing over 12 working days per employee each year due to childcare responsibilities. And that loss comes with a price tag.
In laying out the business case for employer supported childcare in Fiji, the report finds that lost staff time due to childcare responsibilities meant costs for the private sector ranging from FJD$89,000 (USD$41,000) at one company to FJD$844,000 (USD$390,000) per year at another. On average, lost staff time due to childcare responsibilities costs companies as much as FJD$550,000 (USD$254,000) a year in total – or about FJD$1,000 (USD$460) per employee.
The lack of access to quality childcare support also poses a key constraint on women’s participation and re-entry into the workforce, which is already a challenge in Fiji with just 37 percent of women formally employed in Fiji, compared to 72 percent of men. The challenge is even more acute for young mothers when they return to work after having a child. On average just over 20 percent then leave their job within 12 months, reflecting a significant loss to businesses as well as the women and their families.
As the population in Fiji’s urban centres rise, so too does the need for better support for parents. Increasingly distanced from traditional village and family support structures, working parents are seeking reliable alternatives to entrust with their child’s care.
The report shows almost three quarters of parents in the private sector and over half of those in the public sector said they would make use of a childcare centre, if one was available – provided it was of a high quality, affordable and accessible.
Good for Parents, Good for Business
Childcare is a development priority for IFC because of the many benefits it can generate. IFC’s work globally on employer-supported childcare has shown that childcare can be a win-win solution for employees, companies and economies. It has also highlighted lessons for helping companies better support the needs of working parents.
“Having a day care centre at work would be very, very helpful for me and new parents,” says Deepa from Mindpearl
Currently very few employers in Fiji offer any type of childcare support. Nor do they have access to information on what they can do to support parents or how their company might benefit from doing so. By offering a range of childcare supports, employers can expect to experience a range of benefits. These include reduced absenteeism and turnover among workers with young children, enhanced employee concentration, motivation and productivity, improved ability to recruit, and improved outcomes for children.
Global evidence shows employee-supported childcare can lead to many benefits for business
The report details a range of recommendations for business, government and other stakeholders in Fiji. It says while Fiji has made recent strides in supporting working parents through increasing maternity leave, the introduction of five days paid paternity leave and family leave, more needs to be done to help working parents struggling to find a solution to their childcare needs.
It calls on the government of Fiji to set up a national taskforce to look into the issue and makes the point that the time is right to modernize the Fiji’s childcare policy framework to set the standard of childcare service and safety that parents will be comfortable with.
While recognizing there’s no one size fits all approach, the report also recommends business consider a range of steps including offering flextime, work-based childcare services training and other support for parents and caregivers.
As the report makes clear, policies, programmes and other support that enable parents to provide the best start in life for their children pay off in healthier, better educated children, a better equipped workforce and more sustainable growth for the country.
Join the #tacklingchildcare initiative. Find out more at www.ifc.org/gender/EAP