Human rights advocate ‘applauds’ Business Council’s push for 26 weeks’ paid parental leave for men and women

paid parental leave

The Business Council of Australia’s (BCA) proposal to expand the federal government’s paid parental leave scheme from 18 to 26 weeks has drawn praise from one human rights advocate and lawyer.

The BCA, which represents the country’s largest employers, announced on Wednesday that — as part of its submission to the federal budget — it would call on the government to extend the national parental leave scheme to 26 weeks, and allow both mothers and fathers to access equal leave.

The BCA also recommended a bonus two weeks of paid leave to each parent when care is equally shared.

The proposal has drawn praise from human rights advocate and lawyer Prue Gilbert, who heads the gender equality consultancy Grace Papers.

“I applaud the proposal. It’s what we’ve been advocating for over more than ten years now,” Gilbert tells SmartCompany.

Gilbert says equal access to paid parental leave not only has a positive impact on women’s participation in the workforce, but also on supporting men to share caring responsibilities.

“We also know that from a productivity perspective, when there is greater gender balance, organisations perform better,” she says.

However, Gilbert says the BCA’s proposal would go further to address gender inequality, if the paid parental leave scheme was not treated as a welfare payment.

“I don’t believe that it should be a welfare payment. When it’s paid at the minimum wage, it’s effectively treated as a welfare payment,” she says.

Gilbert says government-backed paid parental leave should be paid based on an employee’s salary and not at the minimum wage.

And, if the government doesn’t pay a parent parental leave that is equivalent to their regular salary, “there should be consideration of organisational responsibility for topping it up to the full replacement wage,” she says.

Changes to current scheme

Under the federal government’s current paid parental leave scheme, eligible employees who are the primary carer of a newborn or newly adopted child get up to 18 weeks of paid leave at the national minimum wage, which is $150.80 per day.

Eligible secondary parents can receive up to two weeks of paid leave under the Dad and Partner Pay scheme, which is currently $753.90 per week before tax.

When both parents access these schemes, they can receive a maximum of 18 weeks of parental leave.

The BCA’s proposal would change the government’s scheme by first expanding it to 20 weeks, before increasing it to 26 weeks over eight years, by two weeks every two years.

There would also be greater flexibility shared between parents, meaning that each parent could take a maximum of 18 weeks leave.

An incentive of up to two additional weeks would be established to encourage parents to share their leave equally, by offering a bonus two weeks of leave.

For example, if the carer weeks were allocated evenly, say within 55/45%, then each parent would receive two extra weeks of leave.

Announcing the proposal in Canberra on Wednesday, national chair of KPMG Australia Alison Kitchen said the pandemic has created an opportunity to “remove some of the genuine inequities and barriers within the existing childcare system”.

“We do know that paid parental leave is disproportionately and overwhelmingly currently taken by women,” Kitchen said.

“We believe there is an opportunity to increase participation by both parents and importantly to create a structural incentive for the second parent to do more share of the childcare in order to even the burden and again create genuine opportunities for women to participate more equally in the workforce.”

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