Paid Maternity Leave

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Question: Australia has to date not legislated for paid maternity leave, unlike most other countries. Assess who should take responsibility for paid maternity leave. Explain the reasons for your response.

Paid maternity leave is defined as income replacement to compensate for the leave from paid employment necessary around child-birth (Baird, 2002a:2). In the developed world today, many western countries have designed a legislated for paid maternity leave such as Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, New Zealand and more. Indeed only USA and Australia have to date not legislated for paid maternity leave across the workforce (O’Neill, 2004: E-Brief). This consequently placed the responsibility on three different groups in Australia including employers who value as the most significant role follow by the government and finally their family, which three groups should have the purpose of giving financial support and psycho-social health to pregnant women and their new infants.

Employers should be more crucial in taking the responsibility for paid maternity leave compare to any others. There is evidence that maternity pay is good for business (NWJC, 1999:11.9). On the other the hand, government should become another role in taking the responsibility for paid maternity leave. Indeed, Australia was amongst the first in the world to provide a maternity allowance which is a payable on the birth of a child. This could be a support to pregnant women, but the government should take further more responsibility for paid maternity leave for specific reasons. In addition, family members should play part of the responsibility for paid maternity leave, especially the husband. The Royal Women’s Hospital has conducted a research base on the source of income while women pregnant, indicating that husbands become the role of taking responsibility for paid maternity leave in a range of situations (Wendy, 2004).

Amongst three different groups, employers should weight the most for paid maternity leave, not only because to provide economic support to their employees but more crucially for a higher return in their ‘investment’ as well as to retain high quality women staff. This will be discussed after analysing the current situation women have in Australia.

Australia currently provides a reasonably comprehensive system of unpaid maternity leave with a 52 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to women who have worked with their employer for at least 12 continuous months in either a full time or part time basis (HREOC, 2002:3.2.1). This ensure the right of women to return to position they held prior to taking leave, however as women in Australia tend to have a large number employed in causal basis, it results in majority of women in disqualified for the scheme. Figure shows that almost one in four of those aged 25-34 had changed employer within the previous 12 months in 2000 (HREOC, 2002:2.4.4).

Unpaid maternity leave have the advantage of guaranteeing a position for pregnant women but with no financial assistance as women do not receive income during the maternity leave period. This fact cause a paid maternity leave more preferable with normally 12 weeks leave accompany with income, however one estimated is that only 20% of working women are entitled to paid maternity leave (NWJC, 1999: 5). The reason of it is perhaps due to an amendment in the employment conditions since the last decade. Women can not be guarantee for paid maternity because each employee received different contract due enterprise agreements (union and non-union) and individual workplace agreements (Baird, 2002:6). Figure shows that there were only 1% to 2% of women who worked in retail and hospitality industries have received paid maternity leave, and high educated women such as those in finance and insurance industries is more likely to received it, with a record of 77% having access to it (O’Neill, 2004: E-Brief).

From the investigation of the position women faced in the...
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