The Australian Greens support the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020 (bill). However, additional reforms are needed to facilitate gender equality, value care work, and maximise the flexibility parents have to determine care arrangements for their children.
The Greens have always been strong proponents for a paid parental leave scheme that is just and equal. A strong parental leave entitlement reduces the gender wage gap, encourages shared care, increases the number of women returning to the workforce, and allows for positive health, wellbeing and bonding between parents and children.
To strengthen the bill, we recommend the following further reforms:
extending the period of paid parental leave to 26 weeks, with four weeks of paid leave for the supporting parent ;
increasing the rate of parental leave to be wage replacement for the relevant parent, up to a maximum of $100 000;
extending the Superannuation Guarantee to the statutory Paid Parental Leave scheme; and
removing the discriminatory application of the primary carer income provisions.
We also note that lack of access to flexible and affordable childcare continues to hamper workplace participation for parents returning to work following leave.
The Committee Report notes the Government’s intention to make complementary amendments to increase the flexibility of the existing unpaid parental leave entitlements in the Fair Work Act 2009. Parliament must strengthen employee access to flexible work arrangements in order for the bill to achieve its aims.
Period of paid parental leave
The Greens support calls from numerous submitters to extend the period of paid parental leave (primary and secondary). Consistent with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, we recommend that paid parental leave be available for six months (26 weeks).
Consistent with the flexibility introduced by the bill, we recommend that the first 12 weeks of the leave entitlement must be taken as a block within the 12 months following birth or adoption, with the balance able to be taken flexibly within two years.
We also support the extension of paid leave for supporting parents to four weeks. To assist in removing gendered stereotypes regarding typical care arrangements, these payments should also be renamed from 'Dad and Partner Payments' to 'Supporting Parent Payments'.
Rate of paid parental leave
In order to ensure that parents are not unduly disadvantaged by a decision to take leave to care for children, paid parental leave should serve as a fair wage replacement for the duration of the leave period.
We recommend that parental leave be paid at 100 per cent of the regular wage of the primary care giver, capped at $100 000 per annum.
Another issue arises regarding eligibility for paid parental leave in situations where the birth mother is the higher-earning parent. Currently, paid parental leave is available where a birth mother’s income is less than $150 000, irrespective of her partner's income. In contrast, leave entitlements can be transferred to a partner whose income is less than $150 000.
This results in the following discrepancy:
Where a birth mother earns $155 000 and her partner earns $55 000, the family is not entitled to any paid parental leave.
Where a birth mother earns $55 000 and her partner earns $155 000, the family will be eligible for paid parental leave, provided the leave is taken by the birth mother.
This appears to discriminate against women earning higher wages, and limits the shared care options available to families in these situations. We recommend that the Paid Parental Leave Act be amended to address the discriminatory application of the eligibility provisions.
The Greens are committed to addressing the gender pay gap and ensuring women are not worse off when they reach retirement. We support submissions calling for superannuation to be paid on statutory parental leave entitlements.
Communication and administration
As noted by the Early Childhood Australia (ECA):
[It] will be essential to ensure that parents, parents-to-be and employers understand the operation of the new PPL flexibility provisions. This will require a significant communication and outreach effort from Services Australia.
ECA and the Police Federation of Australia also note the importance of user-friendly and well-adapted administration of the new measures. This is particularly true in relation to shift work, where leave attributable to paid parental leave may not be consistent. We support the suggestion that employers retain responsibility for the administration of leave entitlements for shift workers.
Facilitating workplace participation
The Sex Discrimination Commissioner notes the importance of increasing women’s workforce participation. In addition to strengthening the paid parental leave framework, this can be facilitated by policies to encourage greater uptake of paid parental leave by men and by improving access to child care.
We support calls to consider policies in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland that have significantly increased the uptake of paid parental leave by supporting parents.
And we need to urgently redesign the childcare system so it becomes free and universal for everyone to give parents the flexibility to return to work in a way that works best for their family.
Parental leave for foster parents
We support the recommendation made by the Police Federation of Australia to extend eligibility for paid parental leave to those people who undertake caring responsibilities subject to care orders, rather than adoption. The support required to provide care to a child is the same irrespective of the basis on which the caring responsibilities are undertaken.