Paid parental leave: more questions than answers

Up to 100,000 nurses and midwives could lose access to publicly-funded paid parental leave (PPL) if drastic cuts to the scheme go ahead as a result of this year’s Budget, according to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

Federal Secretary Lee Thomas warned the Government’s slashing of PPL was contrary to expert advice showing the existing scheme had improved the health and wellbeing of mothers and their babies. Cuts to the PPL could lead to many mothers forced to return to work too soon.

“As Australia’s largest health union, the ANMF strongly supports the current PPL scheme, as well as the trial of subsidised nannies announced last week, given that nursing and midwifery in this country continue to be female-dominated professions, with women still comprising almost 93 percent of the total workforce. However, collectively, these two announcements seem counter-intuitive and appear to give with the one hand and take with the other,” Ms Thomas said.

“For many years the ANMF has campaigned for extensions to PPL and for access for shift workers to ‘long hours’ day care. That’s why we find this paradox staggering. To give on the one hand, to increase female participation in the workforce, then to take on the other, by accusing women of double dipping if they have an employer funded system, is just insulting.

“Nurses and midwives have bargained for increased parental leave over the years and now Tony Abbott has broken another promise – a promise about parental leave he made to women prior to the last election.

“As the Minister for Women he promised a 26 week scheme. Then, in one of his first backflips, it was decreased to 18 weeks and now for more than 100,000 women it may have been taken off the table completely.

“The World Health Organisation recommends 26 weeks leave of paid leave and as nurses and midwives, we all know the health benefits for both mothers and their babies if new mums can stay at home longer. They can bond with their babies, breastfeed for longer and not be stressed about returning to work.

“An expert panel has shown that the current PPL had produced ‘small, but statistically significant improvements’ in mothers’ average physical and mental health, as well as improved workforce participation and retention rates.

“After tonight’s Budget, nurses and midwives around the country will be scratching their heads about PPL. The trial of subsidised nannies for shift-workers, like nurses and midwives, is a positive initiative, but it can’t come at the expense of PPL.”

Ms Thomas said the Government must consult with the ANMF and other stakeholders before any changes to the PPL scheme are implemented.

“If Mr Abbott wants to honour his promise to women, he needs to start talking to them.”

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