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.