Gender equity and parent advocacy groups have called for Commonwealth-funded parental leave to be doubled to bring Australia’s parental leave system in line with other developed countries.
This comes after the Labor Government confirmed it would stick to the former Government’s plan to alter the Paid Parental Leave scheme so both parents could use 20 weeks of leave as they saw fit.
Speaking to The Australian, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth voiced her support for the Morrison Government’s plan to allow couples to share the 20 available weeks of government-funded paid parental leave.
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Previously, “primary carers” - most often women - were able to access 18 weeks of paid leave, and “secondary carers” - most often men - were able to access two weeks’ paid leave.
While Parenthood executive director Georgie Dent welcomed the commitment to more flexibility in the scheme, she said parents would ideally be able to access an extra 20 weeks of paid parental leave - amounting to 40 weeks in total - for them to divvy up as they wished.
“For context, in the OECD, the average length of paid leave that's available for families is 50 weeks,” Dent said.
She said even with an additional 20 weeks of paid parental leave, Australia would still be falling short of the OECD average.
“Australia has got a lot of ground to make up in terms of offering and encouraging fathers to share the care and take extended parental leave,” she said.
Amanda Rose, founder of Small Business Women Australia and Western Sydney Women, agreed that parents should be allowed 20 weeks each.
“These days, the majority of parents both work, and so they should both be able to have a break,” Rose said.
“We should be doubling [paid parental leave] and splitting it,” she said.
Businesses offering progressive parental leave policies
Dent said several organisations were now offering generous paid leave entitlements and had worked to encourage fathers to take this time off.
“But that remains quite rare,” Dent said.
“More than half of the biggest organisations in Australia don't offer any additional paid parental leave to the statutory program,” she said.
“So for the vast majority of families, the statutory entitlement is the only paid parental leave they have access to,” Dent said.
Dent said upping paid parental leave would “really shift the dial” on closing the workforce participation gap between men and women.
She said before the arrival of children, men and women tended to participate in the workforce at the same rates.
However, once the first baby arrives, women typically stop working and rarely catch up to men again.
“And that is unusual in Australia,” Dent said.
“In other countries where they have really encouraged shared care, they've got a less pronounced gap between men and women participating in the workforce,” she said.