AG E N DA
Hard-won parental leave entitlements are on the chopping block.
How you can help protect parental leave
ustralia was an outlier among OECD countries when the Gillard government’s paid parental leave (PPL) scheme was launched in January 2011. The win, after 30 years of union campaigning, increased access to PPL from about half the female workforce to 95 per cent. Almost all working women can now take up to 18 weeks’ leave (at the national minimum wage) through the taxpayer-funded government scheme, and some can supplement that with their employer scheme. As a result, Australia moved slightly above the OECD average of 17 weeks. But as other OECD countries move towards more leave, not less, the federal government is aiming to cut Australia’s entitlement under its deviously titled Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill. Revealed on Mother’s Day, the bill is designed to save almost $1 billion on forward estimates by denying women
access to the government scheme if they already have an employer scheme. In the Coalition’s view, the legal entitlement to PPL has become a rort; those who partake are “double dippers” and anyone who disagrees is wallowing in a “first-world problem”. The Australian Council of Trade Unions says that, if the bill becomes law in July 2016, up to 46 per cent of the female workforce will be subject to the change and 80,000 family budgets will lose $11,800. With educators, nurses, retail workers and other female-oriented sectors expected to bear the brunt, the ACTU is running a campaign calling on cross-bench senators to stand up for Australian families and vote against the savage, unexpected cuts.
Support for carers Labor, the Greens and some Senate crossbenchers are opposed to the bill, so its defeat in the Senate is expected. But AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says educators can’t afford to be complacent.
“It’s important to remember that these hard-won benefits are essential to a progressive society,” says Haythorpe. “There’s a high level of ignorance in the community about the need to support women in their caring responsibilities for children and older people.” If access to the government scheme is curtailed, says Haythorpe, educators will be left with their statebased entitlements (varying from 14 weeks in different jurisdictions). They won’t be able to have the additional 18 weeks, leave, forcing them to return to work earlier. That will reduce the rate of babies being exclusively breastfed for the first 26 weeks (the period the World Health Organisation recommends). PPL entitlement cuts will also affect overall female workforce participation and gender equity – already low in Australia – and increase economic pressure on the majority of households that depend on two or more incomes. “Other effects will be long-term but no less significant,” says Haythorpe. “They include the loss of parental bonding and the effects of that on child development; and our ability to attract new recruits to teaching, especially in areas where we have skills shortages.” The AEU urges teachers to take action by joining the ACTU’s Save Paid Parental Leave campaign and signing a petition to be presented to the Senate. ● For more information, visit: australianunions.org.au/ppl AU STRA L IA N ED U CATO R 8 8 S U M M ER 2 01 5 1 9
19/10/2015 12:35 pm