Union claims inconsistencies in paid parental leave, but employers say paymaster obligations more pressing concern

A major workers union has highlighted discrepancies and alleged contradictions within the Government’s upcoming paid parental leave scheme, but employers say the issues aren’t of much consequence to employers and their obligations to administer payments are more of an issue.

The comments come as businesses are still coming up to speed with the scheme, which is set to begin in just under two weeks on New Years’ Day.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry industrial relations manager David Gregory says the issue, “is not of real concern” and that the paymaster administrative obligations are more important.

“This concern people have of people taking six weeks leave prior to birth, and some people wanting to come back and so on, they seem to be more imagined problems than the real issues we’ve been seeing in employee discussions.”

Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association national secretary Joe de Bruyn has said the government needs to fix a number of alleged inconsistencies within the paid parental leave program, which clash with the Employment Standards, saying a last-minute meeting failed to resolve some of the conflicts.

The problem has occurred because the parental leave scheme is more generous than the right to take up to 12 months’ unpaid leave guaranteed under the National Employment Standards scheme.

The union wants the requirements to be the same under both the paid parental leave scheme, and the NES.

A key example is that under the NES, parents must have worked for the same employer for at least the past 12 months, and can only take leave up to six weeks before the expected birth.

But under the paid parental leave scheme, workers are eligible after only 330 hours of work across 10 of the 13 months before the birth. De Bruyn wants these matters made consistent.

“There are going to be problems unless the government makes an announcement before January 1 that they intend to address these issues and make it retrospective to January 1,” he told the Australian Financial Review.

Another major difference is that under the NES standards, there is no right to “keep in touch” days, and the leave may end if parents return to work early. But under the new scheme, parents can suspend payments for up to 10 days to they can “keep in touch”.

“There will be times when a woman wants to go earlier than six weeks before the expected birth; it could be that she has other children who she wants to look after, she may be getting tired, there may be a range of different reasons,” de Bruyn says.

It is understood that these concerns have been referred to a special implementation group, but a meeting last week did not fix these problems. De Bruyn also says the union wants changes to allow parents to return to work before their period of unpaid leave finishes.

The union also wants to give parents a right to return to work before their period of unpaid leave finishes, if employers are given four weeks’ notice.

But Gregory says VECCI is not aware of any major issues that need to be changed just yet.

“We don’t see these issues as particularly pressing matters that require further change. They are part of a framework that has been in place for some time, and we are not sure there are circumstances that will lead to changing that.”

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson also says the framework needs to be kept in place for now.

“It’s important that we don’t nitpick the framework of the scheme, particularly if the scheme is being imposed in a complex environment where we already have a number of frameworks in place.”

“We would think there are a range of issues in terms of how businesses have had to adapt to the new rights in employment standards, and I think it’s probably best to wait a while on those issues before any major changes are made.”

Gregory points out the biggest concern is that businesses are still obligated to become paymasters under the scheme, and VECCI still wants that changed.

“We accept that is probably not going to be changed…but it is the biggest concern we have.”

Workplace relations minister Chris Evans has reportedly said the Government will change legislation to unite some of the differences between the two programs, but this may not occur until February next year.

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