THE NUMBER OF women with access to paid maternity leave has dropped in the past year, according to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
In the last 12 months 6800 fewer women had access to paid maternity leave, with the biggest drop among women employed in white collar, real estate, education, finance and professional scientific and technical jobs.
As a result, the Federal Government has asked the Productivity Commission to examine the costs and benefits of paid parental leave.
“We know that there were problems for people getting family-friendly arrangements under the extreme industrial relations laws of the former government,” said Julia Gillard, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.
“We know that some businesses do offer paid maternity leave. We want to see a spread of paid maternity leave.”
Sharan Burrow, president of the ACTU, said that women would be better off under a universal, government-funded paid maternity leave scheme of at least 14 weeks, which would meet the most basic international ILO and World Health Organisation standards.
“At a time of skills shortages, we need to find ways to keep our economy growing.” Burrow said. “International evidence shows that women are more likely to return to work after a decent period of paid maternity leave, with some Australian employers reporting a return rate of up to 90 per cent.”
She said that this could save business tens of thousands of dollars in rehiring and training costs.
“Women worst affected by a lack of paid leave are typically in casual, insecure, low-paid jobs in retail, hospitality and other service industries.
Currently, only one in three Australian working women have access to paid maternity leave and they are mostly women on higher pay in large companies, while only 8 per cent of women in retail and hospitality receive some form of paid maternity leave.
Major retailer Myer recently introduced six weeks parental leave for its 10,000 full-time staff, and Burrow said unions would like to see Myer’s example filter through to other major retailers and down into small and medium sized workplaces.
“The fact that Myer, which has a predominantly female workforce, is offering paid maternity leave is a significant step in the right direction for paid maternity leave,” she said.