22 February 2022

Public sector union calls for 26 weeks' paid parental leave

| Ian Bushnell
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Maternity Leave

The Maternity Leave Act has fallen behind other jurisdictions and the private sector and needs updating, says the CPSU. Photo: File.

Commonwealth public servants should have access to 26 weeks’ paid parental leave for both partners, regardless of gender, according to their union.

The CPSU submission to the Australian Public Service Commission review of the Maternity Leave Act also calls for greater flexibility in how and when leave is taken, gender-neutral language, an extension of entitlements to adoption and foster care, and surrogate arrangements.

It says that after 45 years, the Act no longer sets the standard for paid parental leave and has fallen behind both state and territory public sector and private sector entitlements.

Further, the union says the Act no longer reflects the different family structures and changing needs and aspirations of the community.

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The CPSU says 26 weeks of paid parental leave should be able to be taken over at least three years or up to five years until the child is of school age with the agreement of the employer.

This may include taking the leave at a reduced rate for a longer period, in multiple separate periods, or using one or two leave days per week to supplement part-time work.

It also should include the right to take eight weeks’ leave concurrently as supporting partner leave.

The secondary caregiver should be able to assume primary caregiver responsibilities and access 26 weeks of parental leave after their partner completes their paid parental leave and returns to work, the union says.

“The CPSU has long advocated for the availability of a minimum of 26 weeks’ paid leave for birth mothers in the first weeks of a child’s life, both to nurture the newborn and ensure the mother’s recovery from childbirth,” the submission says.

“UNICEF and World Health Organisation recommend 26 to 52 weeks’ leave based on the significant health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child.”

The union says employees should have access to one week’s paid leave to attend obstetric and other essential medical appointments.

It recommends five days’ paid leave should also be available for women who miscarry up to 20 weeks’ gestation.

Those who experience stillbirth or miscarriage after 20 weeks’ gestation should have access to 26 weeks’ paid parental leave, with fathers or partners able to access up to eight weeks’ paid supporting partner leave.

The CPSU says the Act should be renamed the Parental Leave Act in the interests of gender equity, and reflect changes to traditional gender divisions in work and family spheres and enable a more equal division of unpaid care and paid work, as well as boost women’s participation in the workforce.

The union is also urging eight weeks’ paid leave for surrogate mothers, as is the case in Victoria, and the equivalent of one week’s paid leave to attend obstetric and other essential appointments.

Non-birth partners and parents involved in surrogacy arrangements should also be able to take the equivalent of three days’ paid leave.

The CPSU says adoptive and foster parents should have three days’ paid leave to attend legal appointments and proceedings.

For those using assisted reproductive treatment leave, five days’ paid leave should be available.

Any new legislation should provide the right to paid lactation breaks and facilities on their return to work to ensure standardised arrangements for Commonwealth employees.

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The CPSU also wants employer superannuation contributions to continue to be paid for the entire duration of all periods of paid and unpaid parental leave regardless of the superannuation scheme or method of calculation.

It says the Commonwealth public sector bargaining policy, including the ‘no enhancement rule’, must be revised to enable employees and their unions to genuinely negotiate conditions such as parental leave without the need to trade-off existing conditions.

At present, all APS enterprise agreements provide at least 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave to birth mothers, and many provide between 15 and 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave.

Paid leave for fathers and supporting partners ranges from two to seven weeks’ paid leave, depending on the agreement.

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