Paid maternity leave break through – November 2008

Partnerships with like-minded groups pay off, with paid maternity leave firmly on the political agenda.

Australian unions have been fighting hard for many years for more family-friendly workplaces. Now there has been a significant breakthrough with a recommendation from the Productivity Commission for a national scheme for paid parental leave.

The commission proposes 18 weeks’ paid leave – 18 weeks for mothers and two weeks for fathers. The leave would be paid at the adult minimum wage with employers contributing the guaranteed 9% superannuation payment.

This is a great win for the union movement and for the community and women’s groups who have worked together so resolutely to get the issue high on politicians’ agenda. For public hospital nurses, the 18 weeks at the Federal minimum wage rate would be in addition to the existing 14 weeks they now receive at full pay. For many nurses in private hospitals and aged care, it will be a new entitlement.

The ACTU must be congratulated for getting paid maternity leave on the political agenda and keeping it there. When we achieve victories like this, and others like the Your Rights At Work campaign, it is a reminder of the value of our affiliation to the peak union bodies.

When you are trying to achieve good outcomes for working women and men on these big picture issues you need to do so in partnership with like-minded groups.

Unions, churches and community groups join together

After several months of discussion, including at Committee of Delegates, the NSWNA Council has decided to become a participating organisation in the Sydney Alliance.

The Sydney Alliance is an initiative of Unions NSW and other groups in civil society, drawing together an impressive coalition of faith-based groups, unions and community organisations (see story page 25).

It is a new, non-party-political citizens’ coalition that aims to improve the quality of urban life in Sydney.

The benefits of working within such a diverse and representative group are not to be underestimated. Such a broad coalition would normally be expected to be divided by its differences. When its members act together in common cause they have a lot of power.

Our initial interactions with the groups have convinced us that health and aged care are issues other participant organisations rank as a priority for their members.

The Nurse Power Fund was set up to give the NSWNA the opportunity to work across a range of areas around organising, campaigning and paid media, but it always had the flexibility to try new and different ways of improving the general life of members.

The Association’s influence with employers or government cannot resolve every issue that affects members and their families. Nurses will benefit from wider improvements in society. We believe joining the Alliance is an opportunity to be a part of a larger collective voice that can have an influence in shaping the quality of life in Sydney.

The NSWNA Council and Committee of Delegates discussed the issue of this initiative being restricted to Sydney, when we have so many of our members throughout New South Wales. But we were persuaded that the Alliance would initially have more impact if it concentrated its efforts close to the seat of state government power. If the initiative is successful in Sydney we would like to see it extended to the whole state and have the benefits the Alliance achieves become universal for all members.

We are a large union at the upper end of the affiliation scale and our contribution will be $40,000 a year for three years.

Our campaigning focus continues in private hospitals with negotiations well under way with the large employers. The participation of members in their campaigns is critical if we are to get a good result and I urge all private hospital nurses to get involved.