Guest Post by Helen
In Australia, we’re heading into an election campaign, so an important issue that affects all women is starting to get some attention. I’m not talking about the environment or the economy. The issue is paid maternity leave. Australia is one of the few OECD members that does not have a paid maternity leave scheme – instead we have the baby bonus, that ‘removes discrimination against non-working mothers'. A recent survey found that 76% supported paid maternity leave for working women, with 78% of those in support of paid maternity leave in favour of the financial responsibility being shared jointly by employers, workers and the Federal Government. 71% supported a scheme funded by employers and employees only. This would be on top of the already generous package of assistance offered to new parents who are entitled to up to 12 months of leave (which many employers contribute to), a 30% childcare rebate and flexible working arrangements. A state politician is even calling for parents to get extra votes so the rights of children will be explicitly recognised in our society!
Paid maternity leave wouldn’t cost much in comparison to the existing benefits for families. But that’s just the nominal cost, which would cover the salary of pregnant women for up to 6 months after the birth of their child.
A far greater cost may be paid by those who won’t benefit from these arrangements: women who are not planning to have children.The assumption that everyone wants children exists in law. The Sex Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against ‘women of child-bearing age’ on the grounds of pregnancy or potential pregnancy. However there are still indications that this happens on a regular basis.
Small and medium businesses say that they cannot afford to pay employees who are not working, as well as paying for temporary staff to cover for them. Business organisations argue that employers won't recruit women if they know at some stage they'll be required to pay thousands of dollars in benefits and staff replacement costs.
I’ve got to say that as a Purple Woman I find this pretty insulting. I don’t want to be judged according to my potential to breed but according to my potential to contribute to the world. Just like men are judged.
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