22 June 2023

APS Commission releases review into parental leave for Commonwealth employees

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Woman holding baby, with pink shawl wrapped around her head and her baby

Greater flexibility and maternity leave entitlements are on their way for Commonwealth employees. Photo: File

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has released a review of the Maternity Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1973, which proposes 26 recommended outcomes to increase parental support for public servants.

The 73-page review took a little more than 18 months to complete and is the result of what the APSC says were extensive stakeholder consultations. It received nearly 190 public submissions from Commonwealth agencies, individuals, academics, employee networks, unions and peak bodies, and took advice from an expert advisory group with specialist or HR expertise. It was initiated by former ASPC commissioner Peter Woolcott as the first major review of the Maternity Leave Act in more than 40 years.

The current act provides leave entitlements for employees of the APS and other Australian Government agencies who are pregnant and give birth to a child. The review has broadened that scope, focussing on health and flexibility, streamlining administration requirements, paid maternity leave entitlements, the health and career needs of birth mothers, and superannuation entitlements while on parental leave.

“With a focus on health, equality and flexibility, the review has explored parental leave eligibility and entitlements, the health needs of birth mothers, flexibility for all parents, superannuation issues and ease of administration,” new APSC Commissioner Dr Gordon de Brouwer said in a 20 June statement.

“The Review has underlined the need for the Act’s entitlements to be competitive to ensure that the Commonwealth remains an employer of choice, supports all new parents to transition into and succeed in family life, protects and advances women’s economic equality, provides employee parents and their employing agencies with greater flexibility and eases the administrative burden currently associated with the Act’s entitlements,” he said.

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The APSC says the 26 proposed outcomes are aimed at increasing support to new parents, and to protect and advance women’s economic equality. It says it also aims to ease the administrative burden associated with the current legislation.

“Submissions overwhelmingly advocated for changes to the Act to ensure that the Commonwealth as an employer remains competitive, attracts the best people and joins employers in other jurisdictions and the private sector in providing entitlements for all new parents,” Dr de Brouwer said.

“In particular, submissions called for equal provisions for all parents, greater flexibility, the payment of superannuation on all parental leave, and more modern and inclusive language.”

Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Pregnancy Leave from six weeks before the expected birth date.
  • Up to 24 months’ Parental Leave, including 18 weeks with pay.
  • Parental Leave for both parents of an adopted child under 16 years of age.
  • Paid leave for a parent of a child under long-term foster care.
  • To undertake research into extending Parental leave to legal surrogacy arrangements.
  • Pregnant employees and partners to retain entitlement to Parental Leave in the event of stillbirth.
  • Provide paid Premature Birth Leave if before 37 weeks of gestation.
  • Continued access to other accrued leave while on unpaid Parental Leave.
  • Paid and unpaid Pregnancy Leave and Parental Leave to count towards salary progression.
  • Superannuation to be paid on all forms of Parental Leave.

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The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) welcomed the review, calling it comprehensive and well thought out.

It said the government needs to be a model employer and set the standard, and called on the government to adopt the review’s recommendations in full.

“We all know that the way Australian families approach caregiving and share parental responsibilities has changed over time, and it is vital that workplace rights and leave provisions keep up with those changes,” CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said in a 20 June release.

“These review recommendations would mean Commonwealth parental leave provisions are better aligned with the realities of modern Australian families,” she said.

“By adopting these recommendations, the Albanese Government would deliver Commonwealth employees better flexibility to balance their work and family lives in a way that works for their own circumstances.”

The review is available here.

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