New rights a step forward for parents and carers

Work & Family
A balancing act

Years of work by the union movement to bring workplaces into the new century so they meet the needs of today’s families have come to fruition with some good advances won in the ACTU’s landmark Work and Family Test Case.

Among the new rights won for employees who have caring responsibilities are:

  • The right for employees to request up to 24 months unpaid parental leave after the birth of a child. This represents a doubling of the current 12-month entitlement.
  • The right for employees to request part-time work on their return to work from parental leave and before their children start school.
  • A new Personal Leave entitlement that allows up to ten days of paid leave a year for the purpose of caring for family members or for family emergencies – double the current five-day minimum provision.

NSWNA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the new rights would make a real difference to nurses struggling to balance their careers with family responsibilities.

Professor Barbara Pocock, author of The Work/Life Collision and a respected expert on work and family issues, says the new conditions are a useful step forward but she warns they are under serious threat from the Howard government’s proposed IR changes.

‘These new rights will be very important, particularly the right to request part-time work and greater flexibility for sick leave. It is a small step forward for flexibility on workers’ terms. But there is a long road ahead to achieve other important support needs for carers such as paid maternity or parental leave and a full right to part-time work,’ she said.

Cath Bowtell, the ACTU advocate in the Work and Family Test Case, says the union goal in the case was to develop a pathway that took account of different needs of different workers over different stages of their lives.

‘We recognise that workers, particularly women, require extended periods of time out from employment to undertake care, and that they need assistance in making a series of transitions back to work,’ she said.

Cath Bowtell says that at each transition there are risks – of losing your job, or the loss of the quality of your job, or risks of significant stress, pressure and strain.

‘If parents can keep their jobs and the conditions of employment that go with them throughout these periods then we can minimise the risks to families,’ she said.