Abbott’s Parental Leave trumps Labor’s

The microscopic mention of Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave scheme in the budget raises questions about whether the Liberals will end up actually implementing it.

But it is surprising and concerning to hear the ACTU and Labor party leaders call a scheme that would offer longer maternity leave tied to women’s actual wages “gold plated” and “too costly”.

From the perspective of most working class women, Abbott’s paid parental scheme was far and away a better deal than that introduced by Labor. Labor’s scheme, providing a minimum wage of $11,000 pre-tax dollars for 18 weeks, was an improvement on nothing.

But, in trying to win himself some credentials among women, Abbott offered 100 per cent wage replacement, including superannuation and income tax, for 26 weeks. The initially cap of replacing wages up to $150,000 per annum was lowered just before the budget to replace women’s wages as far as $100,000. This means the maximum payment would be $50,000 before tax. The scheme would be funded by a 1.5 per cent company tax increase. Most working women would have been far better off under Abbott’s scheme.

The ACTU has claimed that replacing wages instead of offering one standard (minimum wage) payment would entrench inequality, and mean paying for the rich to have babies. But tying family leave to pay would institutionalise maternity leave as a legitimate industrial right, as much a standard right as taking leave when sick, or long service leave—and none of our other leave entitlements bottom out at the minimum wage!

Most women in the highest income bracket provided for in the scheme would no longer be bearing children, so the idea that the scheme would disproportionately benefit the elite does not hold water. Far from entrenching inequality, replacing wages would take the edge off the financial inequality inflicted on working class women as a result of childbearing and rearing.

Nor should anyone buy the idea that full wage-replacement maternity leave is just too costly. The big banks and the Business Council of Australia are wailing over the 1.5 per cent company tax increase to pay for the scheme. But why shouldn’t their profits contribute to the cost of child rearing? Why not prioritise the rights of women to take fully paid parental leave over the right of Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac, to post another $3.8 billion dollar half yearly profit?

Unless we see full wage replacement parental leave for six months as a reform worth fighting for, Abbott will have every excuse to quietly junk the scheme.

By Lucy Honan


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