Productivity Commission on Maternity Leave

The ACTU and the union movement believe that paid maternity leave is a fundamental human right that should be provided to all mothers. It will benefit mothers, family, the economy and business.

The ACTU has called for paid maternity leave to become a new national employment standard after the Productivity Commission hands down its findings in February 2009, and to put it in the May 2009 Budget.

Now, after 30 years of campaigning, it looks as if Australian women are finally about to win a universal paid maternity leave scheme. In September, after months of considering submissions and evidence from women themselves, the Productivity Commission released a model for a proposed 18 week scheme.

The Productivity's proposed model

  • Paid leave funded primarily by the federal government at minimum wage rates ($543.78 per week); will be taxed.
  • Employers to continue paying 9% superannuation on the paid leave.
  • Available to all working mothers who have worked at least 10 hours a week on average over the previous 12 months, with the same or various employers.
  • 18 weeks to be taken after any other paid maternity leave provided by the employer.
  • 18 weeks must begin within 6 months of the birth of the baby.
  • 18 weeks not available before the birth.
  • 18 weeks cannot be taken at half pay.
  • 18 week payment not available to “stay at home” mothers who will continue to receive the baby bonus and Family Tax Benefit part B (a lesser amount).
  • 2 weeks paid paternity leave.

The proposed scheme is a great start but it isn’t perfect. In the next round of consultations with the Productivity Commission, the ACTU and unions want to see some fine-tuning on the following:

  • A requirement that employers “top-up” the government’s paid leave to make sure women earning above the minimum wage receive full income replacement.
  • Flexibility on the qualifying period. Some women may have been working for 12 months or more but their hours might fall slightly short because of unavoidable gaps between shifts or jobs, particularly if they are casual employees.
  • Flexibility on when mew mums can take the 18 weeks leave. For example, a woman taking 14 weeks of employer-funded maternity leave at half pay over 28 weeks would go over the 6 month (26 weeks) deadline to access the additional 18 weeks paid leave offered by the government and therefore miss out altogether.
  • Flexibility to allow women to take some of the 18 weeks paid leave before the birth of the baby.
  • Allow women the choice of taking 18 weeks paid leave at half pay over 36 weeks.
  • Offer an equivalent payment to “stay at home” mums, who would receive substantially less under this proposed model. The ACTU and unions would like to see an end to the artificial distinction as most women work until their first child is born and most return to work when their children are older.

What you can do
After the next round of submissions and hearings, a final proposal will be handed to the Rudd Government in February 2009, which has indicated it plans to act on the recommendations. We will want the scheme to start as soon as possible and everyone will need to keep campaigning hard to make sure it’s included in the 2009 May Budget.

Watch everyday Australians tell PM Kevin Rudd why paid maternity leave should be included in the 2009 Federal Budget, and take action on the ACTU campaign's website Your Rights at Work