Time to Deliver

Published: 9 Apr 2009

The Maritime Union has joined the ACTU campaign for 14 weeks paid maternity leave emailing video petitions to MPs while ensuring all agreements include paid leave for both men and women.

We'’ve sent in around 100 video petitions,” said MUA Women’s Liaison Officer Mich-Elle Myers. “And MUA men are part of the campaign. It’s not just women who are behind it.”

Stevedoring workers have one of the better industry parental leave clauses in the workplace. The new DP World parental leave policy includes paid parental leave entitlement of up to 12 weeks and the right of eligible employees to request an extension of their parental leave at all Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle terminals as part of their new enterprise agreement.
The right applies to both parents, with men also having the opportunity to take a week’s paid leave to care for their newborn.

Women workers at Patrick receive six weeks maternity leave after 12 months service; rising by one week of leave for each year of service up to 12 weeks leave. Male employees and same-sex partners are entitled to one week's parental leave.

While these entitlements fall short of the ACTU’s 14 weeks universal maternity leave proposal, stevedoring workers are far better off than most workers in the private sector.

University of Sydney researchers revealed in February that paid maternity leave is available in just 16 per cent of private sector agreements and paternity pay in only 13 per cent.

The ACTU is running a major campaign for paid maternity leave which would be both universal and government funded. But the economic downturn has raised concerns that the government may not include maternity leave in its May 09 budget.

We already know that as many as two-thirds of women do not have access to paid maternity leave. This means many new mothers are forced back to work early,” says ACTU president Sharan Burrow.

Women worst affected by a lack of paid leave are typically in casual, insecure, low-paid jobs in retail, hospitality and other service industries. Mortgages, childcare and other bills are a constant day-to-day pressure.”

The latest ABS figures reveal an alarming new development, with 6800 fewer women having access to paid maternity leave in the past year.

For over half a decade, Australia and the United States have been the only OECD countries without a national system for paid maternity leave.

The UK provides a total of 39 weeks parental leave with the first 6 weeks at 90 per cent of full income. Sweden has a total of 18 months parental leave, with the first year paid at 80 per cent of the parents’ prior earnings, while Austria provides a total of 39.2 months of which 16 weeks is paid at 100 per cent of the mother’s prior earnings.

In 1979 the ACTU won 12 months unpaid leave for mothers in the Maternity Leave Test Case. In a series of cases since then, the ACTU has fought for the extension of this leave to include adopting mothers (1985), fathers (1990) and casual employees (2001).

The ACTU model proposes a national minimum standard of 14 weeks paid maternity leave for all mothers of newborn children, with the cost shared between employers and government.

The government contribution of the federal minimum wage ($522.12) and 9 per cent superannuation would be available to all new mothers. Employers would be responsible for topping up payment to ensure that the mother’s ordinary earnings are protected for a minimum of 14 weeks.

Almost two thirds of Australian parents have no access to paid parental leave.

Most paid and unpaid maternity leave schemes are unavailable to casual and non-permanent employees such as workers on contracts. More than a quarter of the Australian workforce is now employed as casuals.
Australia has yet to ratify ILO Convention 183 Maternity Protection (2000) which requires countries to provide 14 weeks maternity leave, cash benefits and access to breast feeding breaks.

Meanwhile Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is pushing for the Rudd government to introduce paid maternity leave in two stages – 14 weeks initially, then 48 weeks. Her proposal also provides a further six weeks paid leave for supporting parents. Paid maternity leave in the May budget would ease economic hardship for families.

The Productivity Commission advocated an 18-week scheme which would produce a highly positive social and economic return for a relatively small net investment of $450 million, just 2 per cent more than existing family assistance measures.

The ACTU President launched a paid maternity leave video petition on February 24 supported by more than 8000 Australians calling on Prime Minister Rudd to include the scheme in the May budget.

Meanwhile the economic crisis could increase the number of unemployed women by up to 22 million this year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says.

In a report assessing employment trends for women, the ILO warns that they will not escape the downturn.

The global crisis began in the US and Europe's financial sectors in jobs traditionally dominated by men. But unemployment is now spreading well beyond these sectors, the ILO says.

The ILO is predicting a global rise in unemployment this year of up to 51 million people – 22 million, it believes, will be women.
The ACTU and the union movement believe that paid maternity leave is a fundamental human right that benefits mothers, family, the economy and business. Unions are calling for paid maternity leave to become a new national employment standard.

Despite the economic uncertainty created by the global financial crisis, the ACTU and unions believe the scheme should be included in the Rudd government’s 2009 federal budget. Lend your support by sending a petition:

See MUA women wharfies in Melbourne commemorate International Women’s Day on The Union Show: