The Latest On Government-Funded Parental Leave
Posted by Clem Bastow on September 30, 2008
With Australia being the only OECD country other than the United States that doesn’t have some form of compulsory paid-parental leave, one could be forgiven for thinking that Parliamentary debate on the topic has been pitifully slow. Well, presently a number of reports have indicated that such a scheme is needed in Australia (a nation says, “duh!”), and the Productivity Commission has put forward a proposal that would see working couples (both hetero and same sex, which makes a nice change) who have a baby given up to $11,854 in paid leave, rather than the existing $5000 baby bonus. The bonus would be remodelled as a “maternity allowance” for stay-at-home mums.
The 18-week scheme would be at the adult minimum wage of about $544 a week, and would be expected to benefit about 140,000 mothers a year. Mothers would be able to share the paid leave with their partners, but only if they were deemed the primary carer. An extra two weeks of paid leave would be available to fathers or same-sex partners.
Only those who have been in the workforce for at least 12 months would be eligible for the proposed scheme, which would cover the self-employed, contractors, and part-time and casual workers. Employers would be “paymasters” of the scheme, initially making the payments and then being reimbursed by the Government.
Women who are not in the workforce would be eligible for a $5000 “maternity allowance”, replacing the baby bonus. They would also get family tax benefit B and their partners would still be eligible for the two weeks’ paid leave reserved for fathers.
Both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull have flagged their support for the proposals, but many – including Liberal families spokesman Tony Abbott – have suggested that the proposals are skewed towards working mothers, with stay-at-home mums getting a bum deal.
“I would have very serious reservations about a government-funded scheme that isn’t matched by equal government benefits for mothers who aren’t in the paid workforce,” Mr Abbott said.
“The baby bonus stays for stay-at-home mothers and it is rolled over and added to for working mums.
“If that means that the Government gives more to mothers who are in the paid workforce as opposed to mothers who are unpaid that raises all sorts of fairness issues and I am instinctively concerned.”
In addition to the concerns raised by Abbott (and let me tell you, it feels very uncomfortable to find yourself in something close to agreement with the man), there has also been no mention of what benefits would be available to single mothers.
Even though I am not even close to being in the ballpark of having children just yet, I have mixed feelings about the proposals so far. On the one hand, I’m impressed that they indicate that even mothers who are employed casually, on contract, or self-employed will receive “leave” (it’s unlikely that I will ever work outside of my home office ever again, so the idea that I might be able to receive pay if and when I have a baby is very reassuring, when freelancing is uncertain work at the best of times!).
On the other hand, I have no idea whether the proposed period of leave – 18 weeks – is long enough (Britain is currently looking at increasing their leave period from 26 to 52 weeks), and I agree, in essence, with Abbott in questioning whether stay-at-home mums are getting stiffed. And, as mentioned previously, what of single mothers?
I would love to hear from some mothers or mothers-to-be and their partners. What leave conditions – if any – did you have, or do you have? Are you a stay-at-home mum? What would you add or delete – or change completely – about the existing proposal?