Unions deal PM a blow with call for more parental leave

Unions deal PM a blow with call for more parental leave

June 16, 2013

Anna Patty, State Political Reporter

(Translation of this article appears in Arabic section)

 NSW unions have demanded a more generous, Tony Abbott-style paid parental leave scheme, within days of Prime Minister Julia Gillard warning the opposition would threaten the rights of women if it won power.

The unions are calling for a wage replacement scheme for women on maternity leave that is similar to the Coalition's controversial $150,000 proposed plan, saying the Prime Minister's scheme does not go far enough.

The government's scheme provides women with the equivalent of the minimum wage for 18 weeks. But Unions NSW has called for the amount to be increased through employer contributions to provide women with the equivalent of their salary, capped at the average weekly earnings figure of $72,400 per annum. It also wants the scheme extended to six months.

 Cartiona Martin and her baby Declan.

Happy: Catriona Martin and six month-old Declan. Photo: Tamara Dean

Mr Abbott plans a scheme that would pay women the equivalent of their earnings, capped at $150,000, for six months.

 Like the Abbott scheme, the Unions NSW proposal calls for superannuation to be paid on all paid parental leave payments.

Unions NSW chief Mark Lennon said all employers would pay a levy into a pool from which women would draw top-up payments, to give them the equivalent of their wage, to a maximum of $72,400 a year

He said many families were finding it difficult to afford taking parental leave paid at the minimum wage.

''Getting to the average wage of about $72,400 is a fairer outcome,'' he said. ''Most people would qualify to get their full wage replacement if you are using that figure.''

''There is no doubt what the federal government has done by introducing a pay scheme is the most significant step in 40 years and we welcome it,'' Mr Lennon said.

''But Unions NSW want to improve upon the scheme, particularly to make it more available for low to middle income earners who can then afford to take the entire six months off.''

The Australian Council of Trade Unions is also campaigning for a requirement that employers top up the government scheme.

Social commentator Eva Cox, who supports Mr Abbott's proposal, said the Unions NSW idea showed paid parental leave schemes were being assessed on their merits - instead of the political party driving them.

''There is nothing surprising about Unions NSW putting up that model, apart from the fact that it isn't the government's model,'' she said. ''I think what you've got here is another indication that some of the more conservative views of the current Labor government are not necessarily accepted by the union movement.

''This is an example of them bucking the system a bit, saying, 'Sorry, we are not really enamoured with your particular scheme, we'd like to broaden it out. And some of the elements of what we want to broaden out are actually similar to what the opposition is putting up at this stage.'

''It is a bit cheeky of them in the current circumstances.''

Kevin Andrews, the opposition spokesman on families, housing and human services, said parental leave, like annual leave, should be paid at replacement wage because it was a workplace measure, not a welfare measure.

''If we want to encourage families to have kids, if we want to make it easier for women to have careers and families, we need a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. It's not surprising the unions now agree.''

A spokesman for the Families Minister Jenny Macklin said the Gillard government delivered the first national paid parental leave scheme in Australia in 2011, helping more than 280,000 families.

''Before Labor's scheme, only about half of Australia's working women had access to some form of paid leave when they had a baby. That number is now at 95 per cent,'' he said.

''It is fair for all working women and affordable for business, encouraging them to top up payments through their own employer schemes.

''In contrast, Tony Abbott's paid parental leave policy would give wealthy people much more to have a baby, and make women on lower incomes pay for it with high prices at the checkout. That isn't fair for families.''

 The Unions NSW proposal will form a submission to the federal government's review of the paid parental leave scheme to be completed by the end of the year.

 Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government's paid parental scheme was nothing more than "a dressed-up welfare payment that doesn't even include superannuation".

"As the gender wars rage on, it is important for us to recognise that keeping mothers engaged with the workforce through a fairer paid parental leave scheme has significant social and economical benefits," she said.

"The Greens want to see six months of parental leave with superannuation payments included."


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