Paid Parental Leave Scheme, Drive with Warren Moore
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WARREN MOORE: We’re only about 10 days away now when the paid parental leave’s coming in which is long awaited. I guess most of us would very much welcome that.
Of course during the election campaign we had a choice of two – I think we had a choice of two Prime Ministers, didn’t we. Julia Gillard, won. That means we had the system coming up of 18 weeks’ pay at the minimum wage. But there’s some concerns that as it comes in there is going to be some teething problems due to discrepancies between the time you can get off work – largely this is the issue anyway – the discrepancy between the time you can get off work and your entitlement under the scheme.
Joining us now is Federal Families Minister Jenny Macklin. Thanks so much for your time.
JENNY MACKLIN: No problem, Warren.
WARREN MOORE: Well obviously the Shop Assistants Union in particular has been vocal on this. But it is I guess cause for concern that you have to work for a company for 12 months to get your time off work and yet your scheme is much more lenient with the entitlement. So effectively people could qualify for the paid parental leave scheme but still not be able to take time off.
JENNY MACKLIN: I think it’s important, Warren, to say at the outset that most employees who are going to be eligible for parental leave pay will also be eligible for unpaid leave under the Fair Work Act. So just for anybody listening, most people will in fact be covered for both. What we did want to do with the introduction of paid parental leave – which is of course coming in for the first time as a national scheme – was to have more generous eligibility requirements to particularly make sure that paid parental leave would be available for those women in seasonal and casual work who may not have had such a long time with an employer.
So that’s why we’ve got different standards, but I think the most important thing to say is in not very many days’ time we’re going to have paid parental leave and we’ve got about 5000 families already applied – and getting ready for their new babies and paid parental leave in the new year.
WARREN MOORE: This is just an interesting transition period I suppose. And look – you have to have a start, though, I understand that. That’s just the way it works. I just wondered though if you’re pregnant now, you’d be going please don’t come for 10 days.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think as a mum myself – and I’m sure I can say this for every parent listening – the most important thing you want is a healthy baby and for mum to go well through the birth as… I know that’s the case for everybody.
I do want to reassure parents that it’s more than likely parents will be eligible for the baby bonus. Of course, that is available now and will continue to be available. And most people who may not get access to paid parental leave, if they don’t meet the work test for example, they too will more than likely be eligible for the baby bonus.
WARREN MOORE: And given the fact this discrepancy has been raised is that something that needs to be looked at with Industrial Relations, or Fair Work Australia as you call it nowadays, that you could either change it one way or the other, that you may change that you’re entitled to maternity leave, time off work, parental leave after 330 hours over 10 of the 13 months beforehand?
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. Well that really is a matter for Chris Evans the Workplace Relations Minister, but as I said before, when we designed the scheme we knew that there was this issue and we did want to make the paid parental leave provisions more generous because we want to make sure that those women who really just haven’t been able to get paid parental leave, if you’re a casual worker for example or a contract worker, we did want to make sure that we made it available for as many women as possible.
WARREN MOORE: What about the claims that some new parents could be forced to stay on leave for an entire leave if they want to return to work early?
JENNY MACKLIN: Once again I think we have to be a bit sensible about this. I think most employees and employers can sit down and agree to an arrangement. It may happen in the very very sad circumstance where there’s been a still birth, and I would imagine most employers would be pretty considerate of that situation and sit down with their employees and work something out, but that’s what would need to be done.
WARREN MOORE: Are you wanting to look at potential teething problems with this and adjust the scheme? Now in particular one of the earlier criticisms and comparisons made with yourself and the Coalition policy was how these payments are made. In other words…
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure.
WARREN MOORE:…the red tape for business.
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. Yes we’ve set up an implementation group because when you’re introducing such a big scheme for the first time of course you do want to make sure you’ve got access to employer representatives and the unions, so we meet with them on a regular basis, and as the scheme starts we’ll certainly be wanting to make sure that we can make any little adjustments that might be necessary. We had a meeting in Sydney just last week.
One of the issues that I think’s important is of course to make sure it can be smoothly delivered with employers, and we’ve got around a thousand employers already signed up to the scheme…
WARREN MOORE:Well that is a particularly – that’s a particularly important issue…
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.
WARREN MOORE: …if you’re talking about very small business…
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.
WARREN MOORE: … to the point where if you’ve only got four or five employees you might say look if I hire a woman who’s likely to have a child the red tape’s just too difficult, I won’t.
JENNY MACKLIN: I think the important thing to remember is that…
WARREN MOORE: You wouldn’t say that but you might think it.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think you’d also think I want to make sure I keep hold of my very good employees that I’ve put time and money into training, and paid parental leave of course is very good at making sure we keep women connected with their employer, and that’s why we are asking employers to be the pay master. But we have made a number of changes to make it easier for small business.
I think the thing to remember is that only around three percent of small businesses in any one year are going to have one of their employees off on paid parental leave. So the numbers are pretty small.
WARREN MOORE: It would have been easier though, and I know this is a bit the horse has bolted so to speak, it would have been easier for Centrelink jsut to pay it and the business not to go through the red tape though wouldn’t it?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s – we are wanting to keep the paperwork down to an absolute minimum, and the reason we’ve done it this way is to keep the connection as strong as possible between a woman who’s on maternity leave or parental leave and her employer, and lots of employers these days of course really do want to keep that connection. They’ve put money and effort in to training their employees so they certainly want to keep hold of them. So there’s certainly good reasons for doing it.
WARREN MOORE: Okay so just to summarise you think the discrepancies that have been raised, not an issue?
JENNY MACKLIN: Not an issue. We’ll make sure that as far as possible it’s all going to go according to plan and if there are tweaks we have to make of course we’ll do those. But more than anything we’re very excited to be seeing paid parental leave start on the 1st January. Finally Australia will catch up with the rest of the world.
WARREN MOORE: Thank you for your time.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.