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Paternity leave on the rise

SOME employers are saving millions of dollars with the return of women who have been on maternity leave into the paid workforce, according to case studies from the Affirmative Action Agency.

Department of Productivity and Labour Relations’ Alison Hall said more women were taking maternity leave rather than resigning when pregnant.

Ms Hall said flexible work practices could make the difference in retaining skilled employees.

The number of employees taking parental leave – both male and female – more than doubled during the 90s, increasing from 32 per cent in 1992 to 85 per cent in 1998.

Staff turnover for family reasons has nearly halved to 15 per cent.

Ms Hall said that provisions which came into affect in 1993 allowed men to take paternity leave under the banner of parental leave.

Under both State and Federal Workplace Relations Acts, all men other than casual workers are entitled to one week’s leave upon the birth of a child.

Women are entitled to fifty-two weeks unpaid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child under the age of five years.

If men are taking on the role of primary care giver, they are also entitled to twelve months unpaid leave.

If both parents want to share the role of primary car giver, they can split the fifty-two week term between them but cannot take it simultaneously.

To be entitled to the leave, an employee must have been in continuous employment with their current employer for twelve months.

Ms Hall said, under the Federal Workplace Relations Act, if the father is undertaking the role of primary carer, he must provide a statutory declaration to this effect.

“The Federal Workplace Relations Act supplements rather than overrides equivalent State legislation,” Ms Hall said.

The Manufacturing Workers Union is currently pushing to legislate six weeks paid maternal leave in addition to the twelve months unpaid leave.

MWU state secretary (Victoria) Julius Rowe said the Federal Government should support this.

“It is unreasonable to expect women workers to make unsatisfactory arrangements with regards to child care, particularly in light of recent funding cuts to this sector,” Mr Rowe said.

“This is what happens when women receive no paid leave.

“Many of our members work in factories and alternate day and night shifts with their partners to handle child care.

“This is an impossible, unsustainable strain on personal and family life.

“Six weeks paid maternity leave already exists in Europe and, in many countries, women get even longer,” he said.

Ms Hall said there was nothing stopping Australian employers offering a period of paid parental leave as an incentive to return to work.

“But this is the option of the employer,” she said.

“It’s often only the larger corporations that can afford this.”

Westpac introduced paid maternity leave in 1995.

By 1999, the return rate from maternity leave had increased from 52 per cent to 93 per cent.

This change is believed to have saved Westpac in the order of $6 million.

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