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The Importance of Paid Parental Leave

It’s a hot topic in Australian workplaces right now. How many weeks are new parents entitled to when we talk about paid parental leave? Take a guess…12, 16, 25? Unless you are a parent of young children, work in HR, or are familiar with workplace laws, you probably have no idea. 

In Australia, parents are eligible for 20 weeks paid at minimum wage (18 for the primary carer and two for the secondary carer), which on July 1st is $812.45 per week. Currently, employers have no obligation to provide any additional paid parental leave, which leaves parents forced to accept minimum wage after welcoming a baby into their family. 

Additionally, couples going through fertility treatment have no government-mandated extra leave entitlement and employers are not obligated to provide extra paid time off unless companies offer specific packages that include paid extra time off for their employees.

Of the 38 nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average length of paid parental leave among OECD countries is 55 weeks. Australia ranks 31 out of the 38 countries! WTF. New Zealand is only slightly better by allowing 22 weeks for the primary caregiver. The USA currently has no federally mandated paid parental leave for either the primary or secondary caregiver. Unbelievable!

Why do we need to extend Paid Parental Leave?

According to the research published by the London Journal of Primary Care, early bonding between infants and caregivers has long-term impacts on children’s mental health and resilience. By extending Paid Parental Leave, caregivers can spend more time bonding with their babies without the financial burden of taking their leave without pay or being forced to go back to work due to their financial situation. 

A report published by KPMG, urged the government to increase leave, arguing that it would help rebalance the distribution of work and care within families, which would also help reduce the gender pay gap and increase female work participation.

What about secondary carers? 

What about offering better leave for secondary carers? * See definitions below.

Women comprise 72% of carers, meaning that in a nuclear family, women are often the ones who look after the children. What about the father? What about same-sexed couples? Regardless of who the secondary carer is, bonding with the child should be a given rather than a luxury. In a study by Monash University, eighty-five per cent of fathers surveyed said they would take time off of work to look after their baby for three months or more if there were no financial barriers.

Extending Paid Parental Leave and removing the leave set aside for only the primary carer will allow for more time for both parents to bond with their child and gives families the flexibility to determine what setup works better for their family.

Time to Ditch the Terms Primary and Secondary Carers

What exactly defines a primary and secondary carer? The Australian government defines a primary carer as:

  • the birth mother of a newborn child
  • the initial primary carer of an adopted child placed in your care by an authorised party for the adoption
  • another person caring for a child under exceptional circumstances.

And a secondary carer is defined as 

  • child’s biological father
  • partner of the birth mother
  • adoptive parent of the child
  • partner of an adoptive parent
  • person caring for a child born of a surrogacy arrangement.

Labelling parents with different terms creates a divide between mothers and fathers (or the second parent). It pigeonholes both parents into specific tasks that generally follow outdated gender roles. 

It is time to ditch the terms and classify both parents as ‘carers’ and allow each couple to determine how to split their paid parental leave between them. 

What is next?

Over the weekend, PM Anthony Albanese announced that paid parental leave will be extended to 26 weeks by 2026. While this is wonderful news, it still doesn’t address couples going through fertility treatment, primary vs secondary careers, and parents returning to work after taking paid parental leave. Hopefully, in the coming months more will be revealed and the federal government will spend more money supporting people wanting to become parents, soon-to-be parents and parents of young children.


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