Paid maternity leave gets a pre-election push

by 26 Jun 2007

MORE THAN 200 people braved appalling weather conditions in Sydney earlier this month to show their support for a campaign aimed at reinvigorating the debate surrounding paid maternity leave prior to this year’s federal election.

Organised by women’s magazine marie claire, the Push It rally was MCed by Bianca Dye, of Nova 96.9, while Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, NSW Minister for Women Verity Firth and Mission Australia chief executive Toby Hall all spoke passionately in favour of paid maternity leave.

The Australian Democrats renewed their call for a national, government-funded paid maternity leave scheme to coincide with the rally. Together with the Greens, the Democrats put forward a motion in the Senate to support the rally as well as to legislate for government-funded paid maternity leave. The motion was defeated by an overwhelming majority of 47, with both the Coalition and Labor voting against it.

Australia remains one of only two member nations to the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development (OECD) that does not have a national paid maternity leave scheme. The other OECD nation without such a scheme is the United States of America.

Senator Stott Despoja said that unlike paid maternity leave, the baby bonus (currently a one-off payment of $4,133) does nothing to prevent women being forced back to work days or weeks after giving birth. Nor does it encourage workplace attachment or allow superannuation payments to continue throughout the leave period.

After developing a fully-costed proposal in 2001, in 2002 Senator Stott Despoja introduced Australia’s first (and only) paid maternity leave legislation, to give all working women access to 14 weeks government-funded leave at the minimum wage on the birth of a child.

Earlier this month, the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) released its What Women Want report in Melbourne, recognising the importance of introducing a paid maternity leave scheme into Australia, to protect women’s participation in the workforce.

“We need to continue to lobby both major parties on the issue of a government-funded paid maternity leave scheme, and I call on the Federal Government to finally bring Australia up to speed with its OECD counterparts,”Senator Stott Despoja said.

Of countries that do offer a government-funded paid maternity leave scheme, Canada heads the list in terms of generosity, offering 50 weeks paid leave, of which 35 could be taken by either the mother or her partner. Italy offers 47 weeks, the UK provides 39 weeks, while Germany and Japan both offer 14 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government continues to encourage Australians to have more children.

In Australia, employers are not obliged to pay anything once a pregnant worker goes on maternity leave. At the moment, approximately one-third of Australian employers offer paid maternity leave. Many large corporations offer it, as do a majority of public sector workplaces.

However for small business, without government assistance, paid maternity leave can prove to be too much of a burden.

Marie claire is continuing to capture names for its petition online.

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