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New Moves in Paid Maternity Leave

07 March 2011

A big change in the economy since 1978 has been the increase of women in the workforce having risen from 44 per cent then to 59 per cent last year. This Increased workforce participation has brought many benefits to individual women, employers and the economy. The benefits of women's employment accrues to both individual women and the economy generally. Women have gained improved economic and financial choices and independence which leads to better economic and financial security, especially through their own superannuation. As well to increased living standards by their contribution to the family finances. For employers there is a better supply of labour and reduced training costs.

For the economy as a whole, there has been increased production and productivity giving rise to an increase in our material well being since 1978. However, women aged 25 and 44 are much less likely to be in the workforce than men, and, of course, having children is the significant factor.

Current government policy towards equal opportunity in the workplace is based on the principles that employment for women should be dealt with on the basis of merit; discrimination, both direct and indirect, against the employment of women should be eliminated; the provision of equal employment opportunity for women in employment should be encouraged; and workplace consultation between employers on issues concerning equal opportunity for women in relation to employment should be fostered.

In 2011, paid maternity leave is to be available for a maximum period of 18 weeks at a rate equal to the the Commonwealth Minimum Wage about $450 a week; this is means tested with no payments made to those earning over $150,000 a year.

The Opposition is preparing a a taxpayer-funded scheme that will provide maternity leave for six months and give nannies similar pay and conditions to childcare workers to trump the government's.

The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Commission has championed paid maternity leave because, for women to participate in the labour market on an equal basis as men, there must be measures to support the combination of motherhood with employment. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is reported as saying that the coalition's plan should include superannuation and consider the impact on business because an additional cost to small business would be a disincentive to the employment of women.

Australia has come a long way since 1978 in economic and social terms. In 2010 a policy of paid maternity leave is an idea whose time has come; a tax- payer funded scheme does seem appropriate as the benefits of increased workforce participation by women will accrue to the economy as a whole not least as a contribution to easing the problem of an aging economy.