August 01, 2007

Purple Down Under

Guest Post by Helen
Childfree Australian
(Australian spelling!)

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.

Flickr photo by chrisjohnbeckett (cc)

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Teri said...

Helen - Thanks for this post from Down Under, and for bringing a this serious issue to light.

It was interesting to learn about your country's Sex Discrimination Act. It's a nice attempt to balance the male-female playing field in the world of work. Hard to prove in a court of law that a woman of child-bearing age was slighted I imagine.

What is OECD by the way? Am I an ignoramus for asking that?!

The survey results don't add up to 100%, so that's a bit confusing. Who did that survey? If you have a link I can place it in the article as a way of citation.

I really hope that bit about parents getting extra votes for their children doesn't fly. Then people would want votes for their pets, because they "live there too"!

I'd say stick with the baby bonus because the proposal for maternity leave is just too hard for small business to implement, but, I have to admit, if I were a Mom, I'd want the time off with pay. This is a tough one, so perhaps the government, which as many institutions are, is invested in the next generation of voters/members/tax-payers, should help pay for this one, even if everyone does not want it or plan to use it. That's our choice, right?

Please keep us posted on how this dialogue plays out on Australian blogs and in the election upcoming.

Wouldn't it be a strange world if we, Purple Women, could actually be viewed as more valuable to employers as we have no intention of getting pregnant? Perhaps they'd require a signed document, or a doctor's note proving we had a permanent solution. Or, perhaps we all should simply let it slip in our employment interview? Maybe not, but it's interesting to imagine.

The sad fact is that, contraception is not fail safe, and we women can get pregnant, even if we are taking precautions. I know of more than one case personally. Antoher tough situation.

Lynn said...

OECD is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The US is a member country, so is Ireland.

I have often gone to job interviews and I have the gut feeling that employers get nervous about hiring a 30something woman. Nothing I'll ever be able to prove to court, even though the Equality Act 2000 makes it illegal to discriminate on grounds of gender.

I do agree with Helen, I would hate to be judged by my breeding potential, or lack of it. Blanket assumptions that all women want the same thing (children in this case) really annoy me.