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Negotiating the work contract

By Rebecca Huntley - posted Wednesday, 9 November 2005

A few weeks ago my husband returned home late from work. In the midst of teeth-cleaning, he told me he had received a copy of his new employment contract.

When he was offered a permanent position at his company a few weeks previously (he had been on a contract for 12 months), we discussed what terms he might negotiate with his employer. More money, of course, and a few more sick days were his suggestions. I asked him to inquire about the company’s policy in relation to parental leave. “Is this your way of breaking important news to me?” he asked. Of course not, but as always I was thinking about the future.

As we shared the toothpaste, he broke it to me that company policy was to give two days of paid parental leave. Two days. I wasn’t surprised but at the same time I was angry, something I didn’t fail to share with my spouse at that moment.


As a dedicated employee, working in a booming industry with a serious skills shortage, all they could think to offer him was a measly two days to care for his new-born child and wife, who had just given birth. It left me thinking that the only way we could all be together for a decent period at this challenging time, without being financially penalised or giving up precious annual leave, was to plan to have to baby during the Christmas break or some other holiday period. This would require perfectly timed egg fertilisation and a planned caesarean. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

After an abridged feminist lecture on the sexual division of labour, my husband offered not to sign the contract. That was, of course, unfeasible. We have a mortgage and I suspected his current employer wasn’t offering anything less than other companies in that industry. And he really loves his job. But I told him, while he needed to sign the contract, I was going to tell his boss exactly what I thought about the policy. I gave my husband the choice: either I could convey my sentiments in person at this year’s Christmas party or I could write a letter. He opted for the letter. I didn’t marry a fool.

Here is the letter I wrote to Mr X (no prizes for guessing why I don’t want to name him, his company or even the industry involved).

Dear Mr X,

I am the wife of one of your employees. I want to congratulate you on your company. My husband loves working for you. He respects his co-workers and managers. Your company adds to both the economic and social value of Sydney. Sydney is a better city because of your company.

However, I do have a bone to pick with you. My husband has recently been made permanent and I see that his employment contract only gives him a couple of days paid parental leave.


I think this is unfair. Paid parental leave should be viewed exactly like sick leave and annual leave - as a necessary part of a decent and humane work contract. I hope my husband will be there full-time for the first weeks of our newborn’s life. To penalise us financially at the very time we will require more not less money, isn’t the way to treat loyal and hardworking employees.

As I understand it, your industry is currently facing a skills shortage. Wouldn’t it be smart to make sure that you hang on to staff by offering them more, not less, of the kinds of workplace benefits that generate high levels of employee satisfaction and loyalty? Furthermore, research into social trends shows that young men want to be more involved parents. I believe these men will reward their employers if they help them be better parents.

I raised all the above with my husband when he brought home his employment contract. I encouraged him to accept the offer. Like I said, he loves working for you. But I told him I was going to raise my concerns with you in some form of another. We opted for this letter.

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About the Author

Rebecca Huntley is a writer and social researcher and the author of the forthcoming The World According to Y (Allen & Unwin).

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