'Punished' for having children

By Farah Farouque
May 14, 2007





AUSTRALIA'S human rights chief says women are being "punished" in the workplace for producing the next generation.
Renewing a bid for paid maternity leave to be put on the Federal Government's agenda, the president of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, John von Doussa, said failure to set up a universal scheme was "unfortunate policy" and plainly wrong.
Pregnant women are legally entitled to a year's unpaid leave, but paid maternity leave remains a matter for the employer. Two-thirds of women have no access to paid maternity leave.
"Women are getting punished for the simple fact that they, genetically, are those with the function to produce the next generation," Mr von Doussa told The Age. "Why should they suffer the penalty?"
The remarks come as up to 60 women's groups prepare to meet in Melbourne next month to build momentum on the issue.
The groups range from the YWCA to the Women's Electoral Lobby and Country Women's Association.
Mr von Doussa said the maternity payment, or "baby bonus", had proved no substitute for universal maternity leave as it did not help reserve a place in the workforce for mothers who took time out.
The commission has been pressing for 14 weeks of paid leave capped at the minimum weekly wage.
"The average time women take out is closer to 35 to 40 weeks," Mr von Doussa said. "Australia remains one of only two OECD countries that lacks a (compulsory) paid maternity leave scheme."
He said research showed that mothers frequently resigned when they had babies so they could access accrued entitlements such as long service leave. While changes in last week's federal budget would help offset child-care costs, he said a more comprehensive plan was needed to respond to the challenges of juggling work and home and to secure better female participation in the workplace.
"The reality is, particularly with mothers having children later, women who are leaving the workforce to have children are a highly skilled and experienced group," he said.
The Federal Opposition recently flagged plans to give working couples a right to take up to two years' unpaid parental leave one year each. Under the policy, parents of preschool children would also gain a right to ask their employer to provide more flexible working arrangements.
Labour has previously committed to pursuing a mandatory right to paid maternity leave.
Barbara Pocock, the author of The Labour Market Ate My Babies, said it was "absolutely shocking" that Australia continued to lag on something as basic as paid maternity leave.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that while more women with children have taken on paid work over the past decade, Australian women of child-bearing age still had among the lowest workforce participation rates for advanced nations.
"The participation of women is around 10 per cent behind many of our first-world trading partners," Professor Pocock said.
http://www.theage.com.au/news/nation...994994876.html