There is a revolution happening among Australian employers that, frankly, is almost enough to make a mum of three genuinely miffed her baby-rearing days are done.
Over the past year or so, Deloitte, Medibank, QBE, L’Oreal, Hewlett Packard and ING Australia are among big companies that have introduced new, generous, game-changing paid parental leave policies for their staff.
Paid parental leave has both health and economic benefits.
From contributing superannuation while employees are on parental leave, to encouraging dads to take significant periods of time off rather than the customary week or two, to waiving the usual wait-time to access leave, to paying upwards of six months of the new parent’s full salary, the most recent policies are far from token.
And rather than hoping these policies will sit unused in the human resources filing cabinet, these employers are actively promoting them to ensure they are used.
The difference these policies will make – emotionally, logistically and financially – in the lives of mums, dads and children cannot be overstated.
Recent research from AMP reveals that parents worry more about money in the lead up to having a baby than any other time.
“Having a baby is one of the most joyful times in your life but planning your baby budget can be one of the most stressful,” AMP director of workplace Ilaine Anderson says.
“You can understand why expectant parents are stressed about money. Planning for a baby often means looking ahead to a time where you are earning far less and spending far more.”
Employers committing to alleviating the financial cost of having a baby deserve praise. However, as I type these words I am poised ready to answer the inevitable question – are these organisations mad?
In many quarters, why any government or employer would choose to help fund a couple’s personal choice to start a family remains a mystery. The answer is economic. Companies and countries are better off financially when they contribute towards the cost of having a parent home with a baby.
Australia’s first publicly funded paid parental leave scheme was introduced in 2009. It offered the primary carer of an infant up to 18 weeks’ of the minimum wage, that could be received in conjunction with any parental leave paid by the parent’s employer.
It was designed to get as many new parents as possible close to 26 weeks of paid leave, the standard recommended by the World Health Organisation for optimum long-term health benefits.
Governments save money on health because of the proven long-term benefits of a new parent being able to spend time with their new baby. And, they make money because it enables more women to stay in the workforce, increasing the pool of taxpayers from whom they earn revenue.
Employers save so much money retaining their talent that paying for parents to take time from work also makes sense.
It’s a win, win, win.
Regardless, Australia seriously lags the world in terms of paid parental leave.
The government scheme here is the second-least generous among the 32 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The US comes last, but even there states that have legislated for paid leave have introduced policies that are more generous than ours.
In 1970, an average of 17 weeks of paid leave was available to mothers across OECD countries. By 1990, this had increased to 39 weeks, while by 2014 the OECD average stood at just over one year.
But in Australia, "primary carers" are still entitled to just 18 weeks at the minimum wage. And, less than half of Australian employees have access to any additional paid leave from their employer.
It means many families will only be entitled to a single week more in 2019 than what was the average being received by mothers in the OECD back in 1970.
Companies stepping up to change this – dramatically – is powerful but it’s only the beginning. The government ought to take a leaf out of corporate Australia’s book.
Georgina Dent is a journalist and editor with a keen interest in women's empowerment and gender equality. Her first book, Breaking Badly, published by Affirm Press, is out now.
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