Maternity Leave Benefit – Why is Australia Lagging Behind?


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) paid maternity leave is a basic human right which conforms to international standards. So why is it that in our wonderful advanced country many people still have to take leave without pay?
Mia in HospI am currently on maternity leave for the second time in 2 years. The first time I went on leave I was prepared for it. Knowing that I was not going to have an income for 12 months my husband and I saved every penny we could. For 2 years I didn’t take any holidays and I accrued 8 weeks of holiday pay, I forfeited some Rostered Day Offs to have some more paid time off (with the approval of top management of course) and I was all set to take leave for a year. Half way through my maternity leave I got pregnant again and this is not something that we had planned for particularly in a financial manner.

This was a real eye opener as to what my rights were as a nurse and as a manager working for my provider. I learned that if I went back to work for a short period of time I would be entitled to another 12 months unpaid leave. There was no option of extending my leave for a further 12 months if I didn’t return back to work.

Now some of my friends that work in finance (for a bank) and retail (in a large department store) they not only get 12 weeks’ worth of paid maternity leave but they were able to extend their leave by a further 12 months, giving them essentially 2 years’ leave all up. Now I ask you, is that fair?

Australia has one of the lowest levels of workforce participation for women aged between 25 and 44 in the Organisation for Economic Co-orperation and Development (OECD). We are ranked 23 out of 24 OECD nations.

The Australian Council Trade Unions (ACTU) states that according to the employers the cost of replacing staff- including recruitment and skills acquisition appears to be at least $10,000 and more for higher salary/skilled areas. Overseas experience shows that women with paid maternity leave are more likely to return to work (up to 90%) than those without, giving employers a real saving on the bottom line.
Without a government funded scheme, paid maternity leave in Australia has been left to the individual employers, thus currently 2/3 of working women have no paid maternity leave.

Now NSW Health does have a paid maternity leave Policy but it only applies to: Area Health services/Chief Executive Governed Statutory Health Corporation, Board Governed Statutory Health Organisations-Non Declared, Public Health System Support Division, Public Health Units, Public Hospitals ( guess I am out of luck working in a private nursing home) The policy reads:

“Full time and part time employees who have completed 40 weeks continuous service are entitled to 14 weeks paid leave. Paid maternity leave can be taken at full pay over 14 weeks or ½ pay over 28 weeks. Full time and part time employees who are entitled to paid leave are also entitled to a further period of unpaid maternity leave of up to 12 months from the date of the birth of the child.”

(NSW Health 2006.

What about the rest of us that don’t work in the public health system? Are we worth nothing? I have worked for the same company for 10 years, do I really have to use my long service leave (which I worked so very hard for I may add) if I chose to have a baby? Do the rest of us have to wait to see if Kevin Rudd keeps his promise on government funded paid leave in 2011?

How do we compare to the rest of the world? Lets have a look…….
According to Equal Opportunity For Women In The Workplace Agency (ESWA), these are some of the international comparisons:-

  • Canada gets 55% pay for 17-18 by the insurance;
  • China gets 100% pay for 90 days paid by the employer;
  • France gets 100% pay for 16-26 weeks paid for by social security;
  • Germany gets100% pay for 14 weeks paid by social security up to a certain amount then the rest by the employer;
  • The Netherlands gets 100% pay for 16 weeks paid by social security;
  • The UK gets 90% for 6 weeks, then a flat rate by social security; and
  • finally the USA together with Australia gets no pay but the USA however only gets 12 weeks of maternity leave as opposed to our 12 months.

When we look at each industry only a small percentage pay their valued employees maternity leave.

  • Education (56.4%) get maternity leave, this is quite astounding considering that the area is dominated by women;
  • Personal and other services (37%);
  • Property and Business services (33.5%);
  • Finance and Insurers (30.1%);
  • Mining(29.5%);
  • Health and Community Services (24.9%);
  • Cultural and Recreational Services (19.4%);
  • Manufacturing (15.4%);
  • Transport and Storage (7.4%);
  • Retail Trade (7.2%);
  • Hospitality (5.2%);
  • Wholesale (4.5%) and
  • Construction (4.2%).

It seems to me that the average hard working employee is very much under rated and frowned upon if we chose to start a family or expand our family. Granted that in our profession the majority of employees are women and the cost of paid leave would be enormous, but at the end of the day it IS cheaper than finding and training new staff for the position.

We should not be forced to use our long service leave, or for fit our holidays for 2 years or stress about finances because we chose to have a baby. It is time that our government and employers give us young fertile women a fair go and step up to the plate like the rest of the world.

It is time for mandatory paid Maternity/Parental Leave!

How do you feel about this topic?

What are or were your experiences when you went on maternity leave or Parental leave (for the blokes)?


  1. couldn’t agree more It is ridiculous shoils and do you know what? If Australia used the money it pours into child care services for infants under 12 months and put it into paid maternity leave so women can stay home with their babies for the first 12 months at least; then the australian community would be so much better off! The first 12 months of a child’s life is pivotal in establishing long-term patterns of behaviours and good mental health. This is when secure attachments are formed. If we provided women with the ability to stay home as well as provide adequate perinatal and infant health services to ensure that children and parents got the best start possible, the long-term community benefits could reduce behavioural & development disorders and mental illness. Good enough early mothering is believed to reduce juveniles getting involved in the criminal justice system. Rather than spend enormous amounts of money on creating places in childcare for very young babies, this money could enable women to stay home longer and if women were supported and paid to do this – I believe the majority would; then those places left in child care could be used more effectively for infants that need it – ie infants who’s mother is experiencing difficulties or infants who are at risk of harm.


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