Trade unions reject call for tax relief on childcare by women in business group
According to the organisation of women entrepreneurs within the Austrian Federal Chamber for the Economy, many self-employed women are in need of private childminding services for their children, rather than more childcare places. Since such private childminding services are more expensive, the women’s organisation is calling for a tax deductibility of 10% of expenditures related to these services. The trade unions are opposed to this proposal, and continue to lobby for the creation of some 50,000 new childcare places.
In autumn 2006, the organisation of women entrepreneurs, Women in Business (Frau in der Wirtschaft), in the Austrian Federal Chamber for the Economy (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKO) launched an initiative to change the tax system in Austria for self-employed parents of young children. The group argues that many self-employed women (and to some extent men) need private childminding services rather than childcare places offered by mostly public providers.
The Chair of Women in Business, Elisabeth Zehetner, stated that the reconciliation of work and family obligations for many business women cannot be achieved by the current provision of childcare places provided by kindergartens, day nurseries and primary schools, since these institutions do not provide services beyond the usual working hours, such as late evenings. Therefore, many self-employed women, in particular those holding top-rank positions and those running restaurants or direct sale businesses without fixed working hours, would regard private childminding services, such as nannies at home, as the only feasible option. In these business areas, where standard working hours cannot be easily observed, women often require flexible support, which can only be provided by external care services, that they themselves organise and finance. Private childminding services, however, are expensive and often unaffordable even for self-employed people earning a good income.
Women in Business proposal
The Women in Business section in WKO have come up with a proposal which aims to make such private childminding services more affordable. According to this proposal, 10% of expenditures related to these services would be tax-deductible. This means that after each business year, claims for partial reimbursement of childcare expenditures could be made. More precisely, the scheme would provide for a tax deductibility of 10% of costs related to private childminding services and household services, which would be credited as a premium payment of up to €783 a year to each self-employed person using this kind of childcare support. Ms Zehetner believes that this would be of particular benefit to female entrepreneurs of small companies with limited turnover rates.
Trade unions reject proposal
The Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) and the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK), as well as the new Minister for Women’s Affairs, Doris Bures, have rejected the WKO’s proposal of the 10% tax deductibility for private childminding services. They argue that investing public funds in childcare infrastructure would be much more effective in terms of offsetting the chronic shortfall of childcare services than awarding individual financial incentives for a relatively small number of people. Trade unions have thus continued to demand the creation of at least 50,000 childcare places for children throughout the country by 2010, and oppose what they see as the funding of a small group of relatively wealthy people.
There is no doubt that a number of self-employed women are restricted in their business activities by a lack of childcare services beyond the usual working hours. However, it seems to be questionable whether the proposal of the Women in Business section in WKO, according to which privately organised and financed childminding services should be subject to tax relief, would indeed help many women to fulfil their work and family obligations.
On the one hand, for many women, the reimbursement of up to a maximum of 10% of an expensive, individual childcare scheme appears to be insufficient as a real alternative to public childcare places. In the face of high expenditures related to individual schemes, many business women may consider a possible extension to the opening hours of public childcare institutions more useful and affordable. On the other hand, by international standards, Austria has always recorded high levels of statutory family-related cash and transfer benefits, but low coverage rates in terms of childcare places (AT0404203F). In this respect, the position of organised labour appears to be more promising, given that the policy objectives of facilitating the reconciliation of work and family commitments and thus the rise of women’s employment rates is still observed.
In 2006, the Foundation published the findings of a study carried out on the childcare sector across the EU25, focusing on out-of-school care options for children of mandatory school age (from five to 12 years). The research explores employment initiatives in the sector and documents existing childcare services and gaps in the enlarged EU, including an in-depth analysis of the situation in Austria.
Georg Adam, University of Vienna