Pregnant woman's stomache with partner's hands wrapped around

Paid Parental Leave

The new national paid maternity leave scheme is a big win for Australian women and their families.

After 30 years of campaigning women will now have support to keep their jobs and financial security when they have a baby.  The 18 week scheme, announced in the May Federal Budget, will start from 1 January, 2011 and is an important social reform giving assist families to adjust to a major life event – the birth of a baby. And from 1 January, 2013, two weeks of paid parental leave will be available to all new fathers and partners as well.

What we have won
Eighteen weeks leave for the primary care giver – whether a full-time, part-time or casual worker. Eligible women get payments via their employer at the Federal Minimum Wage.

To be eligible for the government scheme the primary carer must be in paid work and have:

  • Been engaged in work continuously for at least 10 of the 13 months prior to the expected birth or adoption of a child
  • Undertaken at least 330 hours paid work in the 10 month period (an average of around one day of paid work a week)
  • An income test of $150,000 will apply based on the primary carer’s adjusted taxable income in the previous financial year.

Campaign background
Measures to allow mothers time to bond with their babies without financial stress forcing them back to work too early benefits the entire community and would not have been achieved without the tireless efforts of union and community activists.

Our campaign history includes advocacy for maternity leave in the 1970s through to the early 1990s. Unions won the right to unpaid maternity leave in the private sector in 1979 and have secured paid maternity leave in many industries in the public and private sector over the past 30 years.

Longstanding union activity resulted in the maternity allowance in 1993 and support for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report Time to Value in 2002 resulted in the Baby Bonus in 2005. In 2005 the ACTU won the case for employees’ right to request an extension of parental leave up to 24 months, the right to eight weeks of concurrent parental leave and additional allocation of leave for caring purposes.

The Howard Government was firmly against paid maternity leave and it was only with the election of the Labor Government in 2007 that it was back on the agenda. In early 2008 the Federal Government asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into paid maternity leave, signaling its intention to ‘bite the bullet’ on the issue.

Unions rallied supporters and Your Rights at Work activists during this period – with the slogan “Mums' rights at work” they were able to build a sustained national campaign involving community events, petitions and lobbying.

The ACTU argued in its submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry that maternity leave must be judged as a long term economic and social measure to boost women’s workforce participation, keep productivity on track and build a healthy and prosperous community.

The Productivity Commission report Paid Parental Leave: support for parents with newborn children recommended an 18-week scheme and it was this model that was largely adopted by the Federal Government.  Now we are able to count the national paid maternity leave scheme as a further gain for the union movement.

Dad and Partner Pay
Legislation was passed by Parliament in early 2012 for Dad and Partner Pay. This entitles eligible parents to two weeks paid leave for secondary carers at the Federal Minimum Wage.

DaPP is available for the biological father, partner of the child’s birth mother (including same sex partner) or adoptive parent and can be taken at the same time as the primary carer is on PPL. Eligibility requirements are the same as Paid Parental Leave.

You cannot save up or cash out DaPP and the payment cannot be taken at the same time as any other paid leave. Unlike Paid Parental Leave, which is passed on through employer payroll systems, Dad and Partner Pay payments are made directly to the employee via the Family Assistance Office.

The new scheme begins on 1 January, 2013, but applications can be lodged from 1 October, 2012.

What is next?
The national paid parental leave scheme began on 1 January 2011, and is a great start. The government scheme will operate alongside employer schemes already in place and unions will continue to campaign to ensure that the government-funded component is not be used by employers as a substitute for existing employee paid parental leave entitlements.

More importantly employers must not use the government scheme as an excuse cut paid maternity leave from agreements. There is more work to do to build on the 18-week scheme. Unions will campaign for improvements in the following priority areas:

  • A requirement that employers “top-up” the government scheme so women earning above the minimum wage receive full income replacement
  • Employer payment of 9% superannuation
  • Flexibility on the qualifying period
  • Flexibility to allow women to take some of 18 weeks paid leave before the birth of the baby
  • Adjusting the scheme to allow women the choice of taking 18 weeks paid leave at half pay over 36 weeks

Paid Parental Leave poster

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