Legal

More leave for parents: Hockey

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New parents will be entitled to up to two years unpaid maternity leave upon the birth of a child under a future Coalition government. Each parent is entitled to a year’s leave without pay.

Part of a package of family friendly measures promised by Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday, the commitment to increase the current 52 week parental leave entitlement to two years follows a similar pledge by Labor earlier this year, although a single parent can request to take the full two years themselves under the Labor policy.

Hockey went even further yesterday, promising grandparents who work for businesses with more than 100 employees the right to a year’s unpaid leave to enable them to help care for newborn grandchildren. Grandparents who work for business with fewer than 100 employees can claim one week’s unpaid leave. GHhock

And, he says, a future Coalition government will also make it possible for all employees to take twice as much annual leave at half the rate of pay, provided their employer agrees to let them do so.

However, the language of the Coalition’s policy statement carefully avoids saying that workers will have a “right to request” a longer period of annual leave. This suggests that while they will amend laws to make it easier to take longer leave on half pay – at the moment doing so could breach award or statutory entitlements – employers don’t face any penalties if they refuse to allow employees to do so.

Hockey’s announcement yesterday has met with a mixed response from employer groups, many of whom are keen to emphasise their overall preference for the Coalition’s IR policy while disapproving of the additional costs for employers that greater unpaid leave entitlements will bring.

Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Tony Steven says the increased need for family flexibility is a reality small businesses have to face.

“Although, in order to retain staff in today’s low unemployment environment, small businesses have to be flexible and ensure it caters for family circumstances – and these provisions simply provide a legal framework for these conditions to be offered – additional parental leave is an extra burden,” Steven says.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Hendy was also lukewarm about Hockey’s leave proposal.

“ACCI has long maintained the best way to support balancing working and family life is encouraging open discussion between employers and employees, not adding new rules to our national legislation,” Hendy says.

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