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Valuing Parenthood - Preface

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Valuing Parenthood - Options for Paid Parental Leave: Interim Paper 2002

Preface

Background

In 1999, the Human
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's (HREOC) Report of the National
Pregnancy and Work Inquiry, Pregnant and Productive, recognised
the importance of paid maternity leave to Australian women and recommended
that the Federal Government commission economic modelling to assess
the viability and consequences of such a scheme. This interim options
paper has been developed in order to consult, inform the debate and
examine the options for paid maternity leave in Australia. The economic
modelling to support this debate has not yet been done.

The Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW) identifies paid maternity leave as a right for women in order
to eliminate discrimination on the ground of maternity and to ensure
women's right to work. [1] By July 2002, Australia
and the USA will be the only two OECD countries that do not have a paid
maternity leave system. Eighteen of Australia's significant trading
partners currently have some national scheme of paid maternity leave.
This will increase to 19 when New Zealand's government-funded paid maternity
leave scheme takes effect in July 2002.

The debate about
the need for a paid maternity leave scheme in Australia is not new.
The complaints record of HREOC continues to demonstrate that the onset
of maternity is a major cause of discrimination against women and highlights
the need for measures to eliminate this discrimination.

In recent months,
paid maternity leave has received increased public attention, with the
beginnings of a lively debate about the merits of such a scheme. The
prominence of this issue reflects the high percentage of Australian
women in paid work with dependent-aged children (and of two income families)
and the increasing investment in women's education and training. It
also reflects acknowledgement that women should not be disadvantaged
in that investment by their decision to have a child. Paid maternity
leave is also part of the broader issue of enabling people to better
combine their work and family responsibilities, arguably as one of a
suite of measures that would support these joint responsibilities.

The current level
of interest in this issue makes it timely to reexamine whether existing
support for maternity in Australia is sufficient, or whether there is
a need for a national paid maternity leave scheme.

About this paper

The purpose of
this paper is to provide a framework for discussing paid maternity leave
options. The paper does not aim to provide a response to all of the
questions surrounding possible arrangements for paid maternity leave.
As an interim options paper, it raises some of these questions for consideration
and seeks input from interested people, organisations and agencies.

The paper is divided
into four sections.

Part
A
includes an introduction to the paper and provides an overview
of the present circumstances of Australia's working mothers. This includes
a statistical overview of women's labour force participation in Australia,
with an emphasis on maternity leave and a description of current government
and industrial arrangements for supporting maternity in Australia.

Part
B
provides an international context for considering paid maternity
leave options. This includes a description of international standards
in relation to paid maternity leave and a summary of paid maternity
leave schemes operating internationally.

Part
C
sets out the possible objectives of a paid maternity leave scheme.

Part
D
outlines a number of criteria on which a paid maternity leave
system could be based and potential options for establishing a paid
maternity leave system in Australia.

Consultations and research

In developing this
paper, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has undertaken consultations
on paid maternity leave with employer and industry groups, employee
organisations, government, academics and community organisations.

There is a lack
of statistical information, and in particular current statistical information,
available about maternity, family responsibilities and work arrangements.
This means that there are significant limitations on what can accurately
be predicted about future provisions for paid maternity leave. HREOC
did not have additional resources to conduct empirical research for
this paper, and as such has had to rely on existing information. Future
research in this area is vitally important and has been highlighted
at relevant points throughout the paper.

The final options paper

A final options
paper, including fully developed options for paid maternity leave, will
be released later in 2002.

The final options
paper will draw on public submissions received in response to this interim
options paper. The interim paper will be distributed to all those who
contributed to it and other interested individuals and organisations,
for comment. In particular, correspondents will be invited to pay particular
attention to the proposed options and to provide comment, additional
analysis and detail on those they consider to be most relevant. Modelling
or detailed analysis will be taken into account in the final paper.

Making a submission

Submissions are
invited on the issues raised in this interim options paper. Electronic
submission by email is encouraged.

Submissions should
be sent to one of the following addresses:

By mail:

Paid Maternity Leave Submission

Sex Discrimination Unit

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

GPO Box 5218, Sydney, NSW 1042

By email:

paidmaternityleave@humanrights.gov.au

By fax:

02 9284 9789

The closing
date for submissions is Friday 12 July 2002.


1. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women
GA Res 180 (XXXIV 1970), 19 ILM 33 (1980). CEDAW was ratified
by Australia on 28 August 1983 and is annexed to the Sex Discrimination
Act
1984 (Cth) as a Schedule. Australia is a signatory to CEDAW.
However, as outlined in Chapter 3 of this paper, Australia entered a
reservation in respect of the maternity leave provision, art 11(2)(b).