Going beyond paying lip service to paid maternity leave

by 10 Jun 2008

There has been some debate lately around paid maternity leave. As our story on the left details, the government is looking to incorporate extra maternity leave entitlements into its National Employment Standards.

This is a significant step for an Australian government. While previous governments have often paid lip service to improving paid maternity leave or just tinkered around the edges of relevant legislation, it is good to see a stronger and more proactive approach to improving conditions for women in the workforce.

Julia Gillard, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, has been leading the charge on this issue, and is looking at ways of making paid maternity leave more accessible. Under the proposed changes, parents with newborn children will have the right to request an additional 12 months parental leave (currently capped at 12 months) and three weeks concurrent leave at birth or adoption (currently 1 week).

The proposed changes are good timing. The number of women with access to paid maternity leave has dropped in the past year, according to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. As a result, the Federal Government has asked the Productivity Commission to examine the costs and benefits of paid parental leave.

It is also worth noting that Australia lags behind most comparable countries – including the UK, Canada, New Zealand and France – in shaping workplace policies that deliver incentives and institutional support to allow women to combine work and motherhood.

There have been a number of studies over the years detailing the business benefits of paid parental leave. Apart from retention of talented employees and improved succession planning, more and more employees are looking at flexible working options as part of the overall package with potential employers.

While there are always more forward-thinking employers in this area, it is refreshing to see the government following suit.

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