The Guardian July 17, 2002


ACTU pursues paid maternity leave

by Janice Hamilton

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for a system of 
paid maternity leave that would provide 14 weeks paid leave for working 
mothers. It wants the Federal Government to ensure full income replacement 
for lower-paid women, recognising that almost half of Australia's women 
workers earn less than $500 a week.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said an ACTU plan, which was submitted on July 
10 to the office of the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward, 
would provide paid leave for working mothers, in line with international 
standards.

According to Ms Burrow, "The ACTU's plan demonstrates that paid maternity 
leave can be affordable for both governments and employers. The cost to the 
Government would be $100 million less than the current baby bonus scheme 
(over four years)."

Under the ACTU's proposal, an estimated 87 per cent of working women would 
be eligible for 14 weeks leave on full pay, with others receiving at least 
average full-time weekly earnings (currently $981.10).

The Commonwealth would fund payments up to the minimum wage (currently $431 
per week). Top-up payments up to the level of average weekly earnings would 
be funded by an employer levy costing less than $1-a-week per employee with 
possible exemptions for small business.

"Some of Australia's biggest employers support moves for a proper maternity 
leave scheme. The ACTU is prepared to work with all employer groups to 
develop the best form of supplementary employer levy", Ms Burrow said.

"Paid maternity leave would deliver significant economic benefits to 
employers who need to retain skilled employees while providing some much 
needed balance between work and family commitments."

"Paid maternity leave is long overdue in Australia, as one of the last 
countries in the developed world that still tolerates discrimination 
against women for having families."

But not all employer groups are happy with the proposal. The Australian 
Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes that employers should not be 
responsible for, as its director Peter Anderson put it, "population 
policy," and "workers' decisions to have families".

In fact Mr Anderson believes that there is no basis to have any kind of 
scheme at all.

The Federal Governments view on the issue is as bad.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott's enterprise approach would see a 
continuation of the current system where higher paid women in the public 
sector and big business get generous entitlements, with nothing at all for 
the majority of lower paid working class families.

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