The government is trying to cut parental leave. Again. An explainer
The government have just announced their renewed effort to cut paid parental leave and slash the time tens of thousands of new parents will be able to afford to spend at home caring for their new baby.
It's a bad start to the festive season. But here's the good news: we've already won on this issue once. According to Fairfax, the Minister today said "the government was 'reconfiguring [its original cuts] after the backlash", and told reporters he was still in negotiations with the Senate crossbenchers about these new cuts – that means our campaigning is working, and there's still a chance for us to stop this.
The government is trying to sell its new announcement as an improvement -- but measured against Joe Hockey's Mother's Day announcements, anything would look good.
The reality is that at the core of their proposal there is still a massive cut to the time parents will be able to afford to spend nurturing their newborn in the critical first year. And with women still making up 99% of those accessing paid parental leave, we can expect any cuts will disproportionately impact on women. With a pay gap of almost 18%, and economic disparities between women and men often manifesting at motherhood, this cut would drag us in exactly the wrong direction.
It’s important to remember the details of the system we have in place right now. Under that system a primary carer can access 18 weeks of paid leave at the minimum wage. This is part of a combined leave package that they can then top up with any additional leave they've negotiated with their employer, to help them cover costs while they stay at home caring for their new baby.
With these new, repackaged cuts, instead of providing 18 weeks of guaranteed minimum support to eligible mum or dad, the government want to leave these parents with access to a maximum of 18 weeks leave.
What does that mean exactly? Well, looking at the case study of the impact on a part-time nurse working in Victoria who is entitled to 10 weeks of employer provided care time for a new baby…
- Under the current scheme, they would receive 18 weeks of minimum wage support from the government ($11,826) – topped up by 10 weeks of employer provided care they have negotiated into their contract ($7,200). That comes to a total of $19,026 – or enough for two parents and a newborn to cover living expenses for about 11 weeks.
- Under what we understand as the government’s proposed new scheme, a nurse would receive 10 weeks of employer care ($7,200), and then the government would then only provide support to bring their supported leave time up to 18 weeks. So the nurse would receive 8 weeks of government leave at the minimum wage ($5,256). That would leave the new family with just $12,456. That’s enough to cover the family’s expenses for about 7 weeks.
Remember that experts recommend a new parent should have 26 weeks leave as the minimum amount of time off work to provide health and welfare benefits to both the mother and newborn.
Any cut to parental leave is bad for the country and bad for families. As a society we all have a responsibility to make sure our children are cared for in the most nurturing environments. We all have a stake in ensuring the next generation has a bright future. Paid time at home for new parents and affordable childcare is the best way to keep our country strong. That’s why we should be extending the time parents can stay home – not cutting it.
If the response to the government’s last announcement has demonstrated anything, it’s that attacks on families and new parents aren’t popular with their voters, which is no doubt why they’ve added a tied component to today’s announcement – proposed changes to the eligibility test, one that will allow more casual workers and women in hazardous jobs to claim payments. That is a positive proposal, but one that shouldn’t be tied to cutting the time tens of thousands of other parents have to care for their baby; or dragging our country’s parental leave policy backwards.
That’s why it’s critical we let our Senators know we oppose any cuts to parental leave.
The good news is campaigning from communities like ours has already forced the government to abandon its proposals once. After former Treasurer Joe Hockey announced the first proposal to cut parental leave on Mother’s Day this year thousands of Fair Agenda members came together to sign our opposition to any cuts to parental leave. Then, in the months that followed, as the government tried to negotiate those cuts through the Senate, we worked tirelessly to show the critical cross bench members the extent of community opposition to this change.
Over months we placed calls into their offices, sent them emails, requested meetings about the topic – and Queensland Fair Agenda members even nabbed a meeting with Senator Glenn Lazarus, delivered petition signatures and powerful personal messages from other Queensland voters opposed to the cuts.
When we work together and talk about what the government’s changes mean for our families and communities, we can influence decision-makers and sway votes.
There are 6 cross-bench Senators who could be potential allies on this topic. Can you give them a call?
Senator Ricky Muir. Call him on (03) 5144 3639. Click here for more details.
Senator John Madigan. Call him on (03) 5331 2321. Click here for more details.
Senator Nick Xenophon. Call him on (08) 8232 1144. Click here for more details.
Senator Glenn Lazarus. Call him on (07) 3001 8940. Click here for more details.
Senator Jacqui Lambie. Call her on (03) 6431 2233. Click here for more details.
Senator Dio Wang. Call him on (08) 9486 9650. Click here for more details.
If you haven't joined the campaign yet, sign up at www.fairagenda.org/ppl.
Paid parental leave: Government to change proposed offerings, Social Services Minister confirms, ABC News, 16 December 2015.
MYEFO: Christian Porter finds $36 million to soften double-dipping, The Australian, 16 December 2015.