Welcome to Generation Fair
From the moment the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, Australia will begin summoning in a new generation – let’s call them Generation Fair – the first group of young Australians born under a universal scheme to support their parents through their first few months.
If you believe some, there will be an influx in the early hours of mothers desperate to hold back their child to join this select group.
Having gone through the rigours of childbirth myself, I doubt that – but I do accept these kids will be fortunate to be members of this new club.
Because the international consensus is that providing support for parents in the early months of childhood – and where possible four pairs of hands – is one of the best starts in life a kid can get.
Until now, Australia was one of just two countries in the advanced developed world without a universal paid parental leave scheme.
While some industries generally offer some form of paid parental leave, it is particularly important for women on lower wages who don’t have access to any paid leave now.
That’s why it’s so distressing when you hear on the grapevine that some businesses are considering scaling back parental leave payments in light of the new scheme or using it as an excuse to not implement their own payments at all.
Newspaper reports suggest that employers are investigating how to navigate paid parental leave, where the federal government provides 18 weeks’ pay at the minimum wage of $570 a week.
Unions have long voiced the fear that companies will scale back their voluntary payments to employees, but make up the difference with the government dollars.
And for some, it’s a case of one step forward, two steps back, with the Queensland’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss saying that small business cannot absorb the cost of filling out what he calls welfare papers and changing payroll systems.
As such, he said some small businesses may not hire women of childbearing age, or women at all.
The truth is that a national paid parental leave scheme is long overdue.
It has been a source of much international embarrassment that in a country as wealthy as Australia, two thirds of women who have a baby currently get no paid parental leave.
Parents have been forced to make a choice between have a child and paying the bills.
It is thanks to a 30 year campaign by unions and community groups that the Labor Government’s 18 week scheme is now just around the corner.
The new national standard will be great for families and babies and help the economy by encouraging a higher participation by women in the prime of their working lives.
But it won’t stop there. The scheme lays a solid foundation on which unions intend to build towards the goal of full income replacement for six months of paid leave for all new working mothers.
Some employers already provide this entitlement, and through collective bargaining unions will seek to top up the government scheme to extend it to all workers.
That is where we should be heading in the future: to increase parental leave entitlements, not roll them back as the rumour mill says some employers are planning to do.
The Government expects 148,000 Australian families will be eligible each year.
Everyone agrees that any rollback of existing paid parental leave would be hard to implement in a tight labour market and that companies that continue to
pay existing entitlements will fare better with retaining staff.
There will undoubtedly be a lot of resistance from employees as well as their unions if any employer tried to scale back entitlements.
The workers of Australia can rest assured that having played an important role in delivering universal paid parental leave, unions will make sure that this great economic and social reform benefits all workers across the board so that all young Australians can be part of Generation Fair.
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