Opinion Article – The Australian

June 11th, 2014 | Editorials

Society needs to value women in the workforce

KEVIN ANDREWS & MICHAELIA CASH

As a society, we should do more to support women who choose to have families and a career and this is exactly what the Abbott government’s paid parental leave scheme is designed to do.

In 2014, Australian women and families deserve a system that supports their family and career decisions and acknowledges that they are not mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, our policy framework has not kept up with the technological advancement of the modern era and it has become increasingly difficult for women to combine their career aspirations with having a family.

Changes also need to be made if we want to be world leaders in increasing women’s workforce participation, as Canada has successfully achieved, and driving our economy into the 21st century.

We have also tasked the Productivity Commission to inquire into how childcare can be made more flexible, affordable and accessible – so we can cater to the needs of modern families.

The government has just released the Paid Parental Leave Scheme review report, which shows we are on the right track to introduce a new scheme from July 1 next year. It has been overseen by a steering group drawn from employee and employer organisations, women’s advocacy groups, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, independent academics and government.

The steering group has found widespread support for the new PPL scheme to strengthen the link between working mothers and their employers and provide more equity to Australia’s female labour force. A number of stakeholders called for the PPL scheme to be extended from 18 to 26 weeks. Increasing the amount of pay and including superannuation were also supported, and are critical points of differentiation between the existing scheme and the Coalition’s PPL scheme.

Many women employed by large corporations or the public service already benefit from paid parental leave schemes that pay new mothers at their normal rate of salary. However, women in small business or businesses with enterprise agreements that do not include paid parental leave have to make do with a paltry PPL scheme that pays the minimum wage for 18 weeks, and without superannuation.

In contrast, by providing 26 weeks’ payment at a worker’s actual salary, plus super, we will be equalising maternity benefits for all working families. For many, this will be the first time employees will receive paid parental leave entitlements at their actual wage, and with superannuation.

Indeed, the redefinition of PPL as a workplace entitlement, as opposed to a welfare entitlement, will go to great lengths in achieving the cultural change required to better support women’s ongoing participation in the workforce.

Our scheme also provides financial security to women who have taken time out of their careers, regardless of whether they are casual employees in the hospitality or retail industry, shift workers in a factory or employed at an ASX-listed corporation. Women should not be penalised by their employers or society for having a family.

Labor is wrong to label the Coalition’s PPL scheme as too generous. The proportion of women who have gross income of more than $104,000 of all adults is only 1.5 per cent (based on 2011 census data) and the scheme has been capped at $50,000.

This scheme champions women’s economic participation and sends a clear and purposeful message that PPL is a workplace entitlement and that society needs to value women in the workforce.

The Abbott government supports and acknowledges that women want to combine their families with their career. Labor’s opposition to the our PPL scheme sadly reveals their own failure to put the interests of working women, and the economic interests of Australia, above their own political interest.

The opposition should swallow its pride and support our paid parental leave scheme for the benefit of Australia and all Australian families.

Its introduction will be a watershed for us all.

Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Social Services and senator Michaelia Cash is the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women in the Abbott government.