The fight for paid parental leave

By Tawar Razaghi

Father and daughter

Paid parental leave is important to fathers who want to spend more time with their families. Photo: Judy Baxter/flickr

You could say Australian women are faring well… compared to war-ravaged, food-poor, greenhouse gas-polluted nations.

I mean, we have females in almost every notable (notably token) position you can think of in this country: the big one, PM, the next big one, Governor-General, CEOs, Australia’s-(and the world’s)-wealthiest-lady title (Gina Rinehart).

But unfortunately, we’re still lagging in pay equality in pretty much every industry sector, which is what I’m really concerned about. For every woman in a top job in this country we have ten being underpaid, if not more.

One of the main reasons employers pay women less is because of their ability to bear children (the inconvenience). So there is almost by default an assumption that women will take time off work for a period of time or indefinitely costing employers money and time (who cares about the mother’s welfare, right?).

But since two studies were released over the past month about Australian fathers’ changing work attitudes, there is evidence to show that there has been a cultural shift in the father’s role in the classic family unit.

Eighty per cent of the fathers surveyed prioritised family over work. Yet the reality is that less than 40 per cent actually have the luxury to do so.

They no longer want to be the macho, paternal sole-breadwinner of the family. Eighty per cent of the fathers surveyed prioritised family over work. Yet the reality is that less than 40 per cent actually have the luxury to do so and 94 per cent of fathers had less than two weeks off after the arrival of a newborn.

One part of the explanation is a lack of flexibility at work. Another part is that there is no paid-paternal leave. Not yet anyway.

Both women and men could benefit from a change of attitude if it is embraced and reflected in social policy.

This has happened in part, when Jenny Macklin announced at the beginning of the month that from January 2013 onward the government would be providing dads and partners two weeks of paid leave when their new baby is born.

It’s similar to the social policy implemented by Sweden, which has been long ahead of the pack of OECD countries on the idea of compulsory paid-paternity leave (of course the Scandinavians are ahead).

The logic behind compulsory paternity leave is that employers would have no disincentive in hiring women, because both parents might take parental leave somewhere down the track. And by implication, it would help eliminate the disparity between female and male wages, as both would take parental leave.

It would be premature to hail this as closing the gap on pay equality but it is a step in the right direction.

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One response to “The fight for paid parental leave

  1. I live in Sweden. My husband and I split our allotted leave time (which is 18 months paid leave) and I’ll be forever grateful for a system that afforded us that opportunity. Yes, we pay high taxes. No, I don’t mind 😉

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