Women’s Action Alliance Policy Statement

Maternity leave and maternity payments are related issues which should not be confused with each other as they are intended to serve two different issues which arise for a mother on the birth of  a child.

The first is whether or not to return to paid work at some stage, and how to secure her employment if she chooses to return. Maternity leave is designed to assist women with this decision.

The second involves the cost involved in having a child. This is where maternity payments are designed to assist.

Maternity Leave became an award condition for Australian women in the paid workforce in 1979-80. A woman who has had 12 months’ continuous service with the same employer and is a full-time or part-time employee is entitled to apply for unpaid leave, (in some cases paid leave), for a period of between 6 and 52 weeks. In certain circumstances, this leave is also available to casual employees.

Thus women in Australia are now almost universally entitled to 12 months unpaid leave on the birth of a child.

Twelve months, however, is often not sufficient.. Many women, who would like to spend more time at home with their babies, feel forced to return to their paid employment, for fear of not having a job to come back to.  While recognising that an extension of maternity leave would present some difficulties, especially for small employers, WAA believes that it is time to increase the period of unpaid leave available to at least two years.

Another difficulty faced by mothers on maternity leave is that women are usually required to return to their previous position. If they had been working full-time, then they are required to return to a full-time position. For many women this is impractical. Most women prefer to work part-time when they first return to paid work. WAA supports such an option being available to women returning from maternity leave.

For some time now in Australia women employed in some areas of the public sector, and by some large corporate employers have received Maternity Leave benefits superior to those in the private sector. Some women received a portion of paid leave and an extended period of unpaid leave, while those in other paid positions, and women at home received nothing.

There has consequently been pressure for paid maternity leave to be made a universal condition of employment in Australia.

Women’s Action Alliance is opposed to such a move, where it is conditional on participation in paid employment by the mother.

We believe that the arrival of a new baby should be supported by the community, regardless of a woman’s employment status. The International Labor Organisation Convention 103 holds that employed women should be entitled to twelve months’ Maternity Leave, including a compulsory period of leave before and after the confinement. If we follow the ILO Convention, "the argument is that children are a national asset and the State should contribute at this time of increased cost and workforce disruption."

Therefore, in order to achieve justice and equity all mothers, both those in the paid and unpaid workforces, should be assisted financially in recognition of:

  • The contribution they have made to the country by giving birth to a new citizen.
  • The extra costs thereby incurred.

WAA therefore supports a flat rate inclusive maternity payment payable directly to all women on the birth of their child irrespective of whether they are in paid work prior to the birth, or whether they intend to return to paid work.

Such a payment, similar to the current Maternity Allowance, provides fair and equitable support for all new mothers, whatever choices they may make about their paid and unpaid work participation.