Law experts from Charles Darwin University (CDU) are calling on the Federal Government to increase paid parental leave by nearly three times the current amount.
The research, which compares Australia with countries that have similar economies, shows we are lagging behind on parenteral leave entitlements.
Australia adopted a government funded national parental leave scheme in 2011 which provides access for eligible parents to receive 18 weeks paid parental leave at the national minimum wage.
However, research from CDU Senior Lecturer Dr Guzyal Hill and First-Class Honours graduate in law, Zarah Denese Ramoso highlighted the need for changes to Australia’s scheme.
Mrs Ramoso said findings from the research suggest Australia is well behind other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations when it comes to the number of weeks offered as part of the paid parental leave scheme.
“In our research we looked at three OECD member countries including Canada which offers 55 weeks of paid parental leave, Germany which offers 76 weeks and Sweden which offers 92 weeks,” Mrs Ramoso said.
“We see that Australia compares very unfavourably as the weeks offered are considerably lower than other countries.”
“This shows a big discrepancy with Australia’s policies and changes need to be made to better support families.”
In addition to this, Australia’s scheme has no provision for specific paid maternity leave again unlike Canada which specifically offers 15 weeks, Germany 16 weeks and Sweden 14 weeks paid leave.
Mrs Ramoso said this contradicts the Australian scheme’s objective to promote gender equality in the workforce.
“In the absence of employer-provided parental leave and adequate paid parental leave, the choice for Australian women is either remain on unpaid leave or go back to work early and put their young child in childcare which is not ideal given the weakened immune system of infants at four and half months old,” Mrs Ramoso said.
“Remaining on unpaid leave can create challenges for the family’s finances which affects cash flow and causes financial strain, which is particularly evident now given Australia’s inflation rate which has peaked to the highest level since 1990.”
As a result of the findings of this research, Dr Hill and Mrs Ramoso have made several suggestions for reform to the scheme to better protect the health of mothers and babies.
The Commonwealth government has committed to strengthening parental leave to a total of 26 weeks by 2026, which is the recommended minimum amount of leave by the World Health Organisation.
However, Dr Hill and Mrs Ramoso beg the question that despite this being a step in the right direction, is this is enough, with Dr Hill saying that greater changes need to be made.
“To bring some parity with the comparable countries, we suggest Australia extends paid parental leave and allow for two weeks Dad’s or Partner’s leave to be taken by non-primary carers,” Dr Hill said.
“This means we recommend the government increase paid parental leave to a total of 52 weeks to allow parents to stay with their small children for the first year of development which is the most crucial as human bodies develop the most rapidly in this key first year, from being unable to hold their head to walking.”
“This will massively benefit Australian families and help limit the consequences to personal health, child attachment and breastfeeding as well as diminished job commitment and increased turnover in the workplace.”
“The support of parents is instrumental in countries with an aging population like Australia and if the current paid parental landscape is not reformed then it is inevitable to ask – who cares about the next generation in Australia?” she said.
Dr Hill and Mrs Ramoso’s research is featured in their book Balancing work and new parenthood which they are launching at CDU’s Casuarina campus on Friday 6 October.
Acting Research Communications Officer
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