The Howard Governments' attempts to de-rail the debate on a national
paid maternity leave scheme raises serious doubts about their attitude
towards working women in this country.
John Howard and Tony Abbott have been repeatedly sidestepping their
response to proposals for a national paid maternity leave scheme by
tacking it on to the family assistance package of reforms, that it is
proposed will be introduced ``some time in the future''.
John Howard claims that the strategy his Government has adopted is
"post-feminist". However what he fails to explain is that
Australia is one of the few countries without a national paid maternity
leave scheme in place. He also ignores his own ideology - that of freedom
Such a deliberate strategy which avoids a direct response to a national
paid maternity leave scheme is, in the meantime disadvantaging thousands
of working women in Australia who are either pregnant or planning to have
Particularly women in private industries such as manufacturing. Most
women in manufacturing are greatly disadvantaged because not only are
they, generally speaking, low paid but they are also most probably not
entitled to any paid maternity leave entitlement at all (only 5 per cent
of all certified agreements in manufacturing contain a clause for paid
An urgent and sincere policy response from the Howard Government on a
paid maternity leave scheme is overdue. The Howard government has been
avoiding the public policy debate for some time now. A debate that has
seen employer groups, employers, community organisations, and unions all
come out in support of a nationally taxpayer funded paid maternity leave
The scheme currently on offer and proposed by the Democrats in the
Workplace Relations (Paid Maternity Leave) bill is a modest proposal and a
major compromise. The scheme proposed would be taxpayer funded
guaranteeing women entitled to maternity leave, 14 weeks at the federal
minimum wage (which is only $431 per week).
With employer groups, unions and community organisations, in principle,
agreeing on the proposal at the recent Senate Committee inquiry into the
bill, the real debate on paid maternity leave should focus on how the
scheme will operate and whether employers should top up payments to
pre-leave earnings through an employer funded levy or through enterprise
bargaining. The unions preferred option is for an employer levy.
However, the way things are going, a national paid maternity leave
scheme is a long time coming, or as John Howard likes to explain the
situation, "it is being looked into".
If the timing of the introduction of the nationally funded General
Employee Entitlements Redundancy scheme (GEERS) is any indication, whereby
the Howard Government only reacted, before the last Federal Election, to
introduce a scheme, after a sequence of major corporate collapses such as
National Textiles, Steel Tank and Pipe, Onetel, HIH, Ansett etc, then we
may have a long way to go.
It actually makes one think? if there hadn't been a federal election
looming, would we have seen the debate on the protection of employee
entitlements clouded by a policy reform package titled, "corporate
governance and employee entitlements" similar to the "family
policy package" deferral strategy being adopted in the paid maternity
leave debate ?
The Howard government, by ignoring the national scheme proposals and
insisting that paid maternity leave be lumped into the category of
``family policy'' is attempting to re-define paid maternity leave as a
work related entitlement into a social welfare payment.
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