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Issue #1698      August 19, 2015

Campaign to Save Paid Parental Leave!

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is contributing to the fight against the Abbott government’s “Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill” – currently before a Senate Committee of Inquiry.

Under the Bill workers will not be better off but instead will see some 80,000 women lose access to the current government scheme. This will reduce the time they can take to care and bond with their newborn and be a big step back from the progress achieved for workers and their families in recent years.

It also re-positions a hard-fought-for workplace entitlement, as a social security payment from the government. No other form of leave is treated in this way.

While the government has tried to vilify new mothers for combining the government’s paid parental leave (PPL) with (where available) employer supported PPL, it’s important to know they are NOT double dipping, committing fraud or rorting. They are, in fact, using PPL as it was originally intended.

The government scheme provides 18 weeks’ leave at the minimum wage, with payments currently totalling $11,500. There is no superannuation attached and it essentially replaces the (Howard government’s) Baby Bonus for working mums. The reason that the government PPL is so low is that it was always intended to be a base for unions and employees to negotiate for better employer-supported PPL – with the goal of reaching the 26 weeks (approximately 6 months) as advocated by health professionals and experts, as well as the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation. This system was designed to provide a minimal safety net (the government’s PPL) whilst ensuring that parental leave was seen as an industrial right (not a welfare payment) and that unions and employers could negotiate around this (also maintaining the integrity of current employer PPL arrangements).

What’s more, a recent government supported review of the PPL system found that it was working as intended, with more women accessing better parental leave provisions and returning to work when ready (instead of dropping out of the workforce altogether).

So why is the government trying to wreck the PPL system?

In short, they see an opportunity to claw back funding, whilst at the same time pushing the advances made by unions, workers and employers to bring Australia in line with most OECD countries.

For the government to suddenly turn the tables on women and effectively deny almost half of eligible women access to some, or all, of the government’s PPL – when many have bargained around PPL with the 18 weeks as a base – is both reducing their conditions and downgrading parental leave as an entitlement.

For other women, who are yet to win employer sponsored PPL, this change is a disincentive for their employers to negotiate for improved PPL, potentially leaving these women stranded with what is a substandard scheme. Worst of all, however, is that this change is likely to result in many employers abandoning their current PPL provisions, forcing more women to rely on 18 weeks leave at minimum wage. It is, indeed, a step backwards for all women.

Next article – Opposition to the TPP grows

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