Industrial Relations Minister Julia Gillard went to great pains to reassure the SME community yesterday when she hit the airwaves yesterday to promote a planned Productivity Commission inquiry into paid maternity leave.
Many SMEs fear that a mandatory employer funded paid maternity leave scheme would send them broke.
Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Tony Steven reflected the mood, saying while a publicly funded paid maternity leave scheme would be welcome, small business would find it “impossible” to bear the cost themselves.
But while there is no doubt that providing a paid maternity leave would be an unbearable financial impost for some SMEs, the fact is that many others already provide some form of paid maternity leave to their staff.
One example is Gillian Franklin’s Heat Group. With revenue of $75 million, the fast growing cosmetic business is now more medium business than small, but it has provided paid maternity leave to staff since it opened its doors in 2000.
“I believed it was important from the start and I never saw it as a cost – it’s an important benefit for the business because retention of staff is critical,” Franklin says.
Heat Group provides eligible employees with three months paid maternity leave, a benefit that Franklin estimates has cost the business around $30,000 per year over the life of the business.
And new mums aren’t the only ones who are looked after – new dads are also able to take a week of paid leave to help look after their partner and newly born child in their first days home from the hospital.
As well as helping to ensure that female employees want to return to work after child birth – Franklin says eight out of nine employees who have taken leave to have children have returned – the measures also have a big impact on staff morale.
“The benefits in terms of staff morale are huge, even people who don’t have the opportunity to use the leave feel proud of the fact that it is there and that we care about flexibility for families,” Franklin says.