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Experts are calling for reforms to parental leave laws

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

The government’s current parental leave entitlements grant eligible parents 18 weeks of paid leave at the national minimum wage, but is this enough?

Researchers from Charles Darwin University (CDU) are calling on the government to increase the number of weeks to 52, reflecting the progress made by other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries.

CDU senior lecturer Dr Guzyal Hill and first-class honours graduate in law Zarah Denese Ramoso believe that Australia could do better to help new parents stay afloat.

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“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,” said Ms Ramoso.

“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.”

The current government-funded parental leave scheme was adopted in 2011. Over a decade has gone by with no changes being made to the number of weeks granted. Now, other countries with similar economies are surpassing us significantly.

Australia’s scheme has no provision for specific paid maternity leave. Meanwhile, Canada offers 15 weeks, Germany 16 weeks, and Sweden 14 weeks of paid leave. Some see these discrepancies as contradictory to Australia’s push for gender equality in the workplace.

“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,” Ms Ramoso explained.

“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.”

The government has begun to make progress, with commitments to bring paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2026. However, this is the minimum recommended number set by the World Health Organisation, highlighting that there’s a long way to go.

While increasing the number of weeks to 26 is a step in the right direction, Dr Hill and Ms Ramoso believe there is far more that can be done.

“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.”

Dr Hill believes these changes will not only affect the wellbeing of the parents but will also assist in the healthy development of the child.

“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,” she outlined.

“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?”

Employers can do their part to support new parents by including paid parental leave in their workplace policies. These changes can help promote positive wellbeing for parents and their children.

RELATED TERMS

Parental leave

Parental leave is a benefit offered to employees that allows for job-protected time off from work to care for a kid once the child is born or adopted.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.