Maternal Access to 26 weeks part-Government-Funded Paid Parental Leave

Call-to-Protect-Paid-Parental-Leave-FinalWe, the undersigned organisations and individuals, make this statement of support for the current Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The Scheme enacted by the Parliament has the twin objectives of enhancing child and maternal well being and supporting parental work force participation. The universal Government scheme underpins whatever employees are able to obtain by negotiation with employers, with the aim of extending total paid leave as close as possible to a full 26 weeks recommended by the World Health Organisation.

We are dismayed by the proposal to remove access to the minimum leave entitlements provided by Government scheme for all employees entitled to additional employer-funded paid parental leave.

The proposal flies in the face of universal acknowledgement of the benefits of 26 weeks leave and of the findings of the evaluation of the Government scheme.

For the following reasons, we call on the Government to reverse its stated position and guarantee universal access to Government-funded paid parental leave:

The current scheme provides universal access to paid parental leave.

The current scheme is based on the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to establish universal access to paid parental leave for up to 18 weeks at the minimum wage for working parents with an additional two weeks leave reserved for partners who share in the primary care of the child. It was anticipated that at some point in the future, Government would extend the scheme to include minimum superannuation contributions.

The minimum entitlements provided by the Government were intended to be complemented by employer schemes which lengthened the period of paid parental leave to achieve the optimal leave period recommended by the World Health Organisation of 26 weeks.

The Productivity Commission estimated that the scheme would ensure more families have capacity to provide exclusive parental care for children for six to nine months and increase workforce participation on average by up to 6 months per woman over her lifetime.

Government funded paid parental leave was introduced as a universal scheme – to be available to all families in Australia. It must stay that way.

Paid parental leave has significant health benefits for both mother and child
There is compelling evidence of health and welfare benefits for mothers and babies from a period of postnatal absence from work for the primary caregiver of around six months.
Australian guidelines and the World Health Organisation recommend that infants are fed nothing but breast milk for their first six months of life and continue to be breastfed into their second year. Exclusive breastfeeding ensures that babies receive the full nutritional and development benefits as well as protection against infection and some chronic disease.

Breastfeeding is the biological and social norm for infants. Having a child and taking time out for family reasons is viewed by the community as part of the usual course of work and life for parents in the paid workforce. Paid parental leave helps ensure that working mothers have the capacity to meet their child’s needs during the first few months of life whilst remaining in employment.

A reduction in the period of paid parental leave means parents who must return to work once the paid period expires will have to find care for their young infant. We note Budget proposals for expansion of child care beyond 2017. Even so, places for babies in childcare centres are limited and difficult to access. Care for infants is very expensive to provide. Early exposure of infants to group care increases the risk of infectious disease. Where child care is not available these mothers may drop out of the workforce. A reduced period of paid parental leave combined with a lack of supply of childcare for babies may lead to a reduction in women’s workforce participation. Good policy design will support a smooth transition between paid parental leave and childcare. This policy extends the gap between the conclusion of paid parental leave and childcare.

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