Business and unions join forces on paid maternity leave

Union movement leader Sharan Burrow and key business figure Heather Ridout have formed an unlikely partnership to promote the merits of a paid maternity leave scheme for Australia.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Burrow, Australian Industry Group chief executive Ridout and Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said both business and workers would benefit from publicly funded paid maternity leave in a joint statement issued today.

“Such a scheme would help keep women linked to the workforce and demonstrate formal recognition of the opportunity costs facing women in terms of lost income and interrupted careers when they choose to have children. It would also demonstrate that the dual roles of working women as mothers and employees is recognised and valued,” Ridout said.

Burrow said encouraging more women back into the paid workforce after they’ve had children was vital in order to tackle mounting skills shortages.

“At the moment, Australia has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the OECD for women aged 25 to 44. Part of the problem is a lack of paid maternity leave and other measures to support primary carers,” Burrow said.

Broderick also emphasised that any maternity leave scheme should not adversely affect small and medium sized businesses or create any disincentive to hire women.

The statement comes as the Productivity Commission releases an issues paper as part of its inquiry into paid maternity leave acknowledging that the impact of a paid maternity scheme is likely to fall most heavily on small businesses because they have less capacity to manage absent staff.

And a new survey of more than 12,000 professional workers in Australia has been released showing that women who move to part-time work so they can better meet family commitments face high levels of stress and risk burnout.

The report found that 52% of those in part-time jobs said they were overloaded with work and 24% said their work interfered with family obligations. Almost 15% of women in professional roles with family care obligations reported a high level of emotional or physical strain.

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