Paid aged care leave on the table

THE ACTU is seeking to give permanent employees up to five days paid leave every year to care for frail or elderly family members

THE ACTU is seeking to give permanent employees up to five days paid leave every year to care for frail or elderly family members.

The union is pushing for the new right as part of its national work and family test case currently before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, along with a range of new family related standards in industrial awards. These include allowing employees to vary their roster schedules or place of work, and providing workers with the ability to ‘buy’ up to six weeks extra annual leave so they can care for ageing relatives. The new claim is on top of annual leave, sick leave, personal leave and other existing forms of leave.

“Balancing work and family is more than just allowing parents to care for young children, it is also about helping families care for elderly parents and relatives,” said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

Citing a recent ABS survey which found that a third of caring activity concerned the care of the person’s own children, she said elder care will become as big an issue as child care.

However the ACTU claim didn’t take into account the individual needs of employees and employers, according to federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Kevin Andrews.

He said the ACTU was unreasonable and wanted blanket award entitlements for working hours, “irrespective of whether they were preferred by employees or appropriate to the needs of the individual workplaces”.

Issues around the ageing population reinforced the importance of “providing greater choice and flexibility in the workplace and the need for employers and employees to directly negotiate workplace conditions that suit their needs, to create more family friendly workplaces”.

Employers also opposed the move, claiming it was an extreme demand that would cost jobs and weaken job security and incomes for families.

“This claim would shift the cost of caring for aged relatives, not just sick children, onto employers,” said Peter Hendy, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). It is also the very type of claim that will drive employers to employ casual rather than permanent workers.”

Hendy said that a better alternative was for employees and employers to agree on using existing sick leave credits for family caring purposes, if the need arises.

“It would be a mandatory new obligation across the economy, in the way of annual leave and sick leave in the 1970s and maternity leave the 1980s and personal leave in the 1990s.”

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