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Entrenched discrimination in paid parental leave schemes


Another election, another month of sweeping promises and vague policies. As I write this, Australian political rhetoric is at its insidious height. (When is it ever not, you might ask.)

The paid parental leave scheme has been hotly debated, and although I’m not a parent, I nevertheless feel that, on this issue, both parties have missed the point. Currently, a new parent is paid the minimum award wage for 18 weeks (unless they’re lucky enough to have a separate workplace agreement, such as those in the public service, in which case the new parent is paid their normal wage for about two months before dropping back to a lesser wage).

At present, two parental leave offers are on the table:

  1. An extension from 18 to 26 weeks on the minimum award wage, equating to a total payment of around $16,000 over 6 months
  2. A replacement wage of the mother’s salary, with no apparent minimum threshold, but with a cap of $75,000 over 6 months

Both options are deeply flawed, and here’s why:

Option 1: Any blanket minimum award wage payment for a parent on leave is likely to affect a greater number of women than men, as women are more often than not the primary carers. This option potentially further penalises working women who are already at a disadvantage due to the gender pay gap.

Option 2: This payment is based on the mother’s current salary, demonstrating not only class inequity between women, but also the assumption that the mother will be the primary carer of the newborn, hence this option is also discriminatory against women. (Not to mention what will happen if both parents are men – according to this policy, neither parent will receive payment.)

The problem is this: politicians are far too focused on the ‘replacement wage’ argument. What if we disregarded it altogether and started looking at parenting as a job unto itself? Why not separate the term ‘replacement wage’ from the paid parental leave debate entirely? In fact, how about we get rid of the ‘leave’ part as well? After all, parenting isn’t a holiday you can take for 6 months then return to working life as normal.

When you have a newborn, you work 100 hours a week, often more. You don’t get sick pay or annual leave. You don’t get superannuation or overtime or ‘personal health days’. You work hard, sleep little, and perhaps go slightly crazy as well.

No type of employment can compare to that of caring for a newborn.

So there’s no point naming this form of assistance ‘leave’ or a ‘replacement wage’. These kinds of terms are misleading, divisive and condescending. Raising a child is not the same as working in a factory, or a law firm, or a government department. A doctor will not work any harder raising a child than someone who works for Coles. Parenting is a job in itself, and should therefore be treated as such, with its own criteria, payment scheme, and entitlements, no matter what that parent does for a living. And paying a minimum award rate to parents not only reduces the significance of caring for a child to the lowest social rung, but it also ensures that parents have to work even harder to make ends meet.

Once parental payments are separated from all other forms of employment, including welfare, the scheme can be made equitable not just for some, but for everyone. Politicians need to re-examine their rhetoric and build a new platform on which to play out this debate. Until they do, this scheme will remain, at its core, discriminatory.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 16.09.2013 1:44 PM

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