How does Australia compare when it comes to paid maternity leave?

There has been much debate this week comparing the Gillard government’s paid parental leave scheme, which pays new working mums minimum wage for 18 weeks, to the Coalition’s proposed scheme, which would offer women their full salary for 26 weeks (capped at $75,000, or $150,000 per year).

The two policies reflect different approaches to parental leave. The key question is whether parental leave is a welfare payment or a work entitlement.

The argument goes that if it’s a welfare payment, all women should receive the same amount. But if it’s an equality mechanism to ensure women are not penalised for taking time off to have children, it makes sense for the rate they’re paid to vary based on their current earnings, just as it does for tax and superannuation.

Many countries seem to believe parental leave should be considered the latter option, and offer a payment that is proportional to the woman’s wage. For example, women on maternity leave are paid their full wage in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and Spain.

While a number of countries do not offer the full wage, others do offer a lower rate of maternity leave payment, proportional to salary. For example, Canadian mums receive 55% of their salaries, Japanese mums receive 60%, Saudi Arabian mums receive 50% and British mums receive 90%.

Australia already offers one of the longest periods of parental leave, at 126 days or 18 weeks. Other long parental leave schemes include Brazil (120 days at 100% pay), France and the Netherlands (112 days at 100% pay), and Turkey (112 days at 67% pay).

Some of the countries that do not have a general maternity leave scheme include Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Swaziland and the United States.

If the proposed Liberal scheme is implemented, we’ll become a world leader in parental leave, at 100% of the mum’s wage for around 150 days. Currently, Russia offers one of the most generous maternity leave schemes in the world, with 140 days at 100% pay.

According to the International Labor Organisation (ILO), 47 countries provide full pay for at least 14 weeks.

Click here to read the ILO report from 2009.


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