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Questions raised over parental leave

Questions raised over parental leave

The long-awaited introduction of government-funded paid parental leave has been widely welcomed. However, according to Harmers Workplace Lawyers' managing partner Joydeep Hor, businesses will…

The long-awaited introduction of government-funded paid parental leave has been widely welcomed. However, according to Harmers Workplace Lawyers' managing partner Joydeep Hor, businesses will now have some important decisions to make.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Hor pointed out that businesses which already offer paid parental leave will now have to decide whether to continue to offer staff those same benefits, on top of what will be provided by the government, or whether to treat the government benefits as a cost saving.

"I expect most employers would say, 'Well the reasons we why we had our policy was to address a particular deficiency [which was] the inability of a person to earn a level of income while they were on parental leave," he said. "I imagine a lot of employers would now say 'We'll top up the government amount to take people to the same position they would have been in under our policy.' So it will actually be a cost saving for a lot of [employers]."

Though he described the policy as "a good initiative", one concern Hor raised is the possibility that some employers might become more reluctant to employ women.

"The concern for an employer that doesn't offer paid parental leave might be that a government-funded paid parental leave scheme might allow or incentivise more women to [take parental leave], and stereotypically and statistically there will be more women that take it," he said.

"[The issue is] whether a view is formed about hiring women less - which would be appalling in many ways - but I wouldn't be surprised if in some quarters, less informed, less educated employers might jump to that."

One of the more controversial aspects of the scheme, Hor said, is the rate of pay being offered, which is the federal minimum wage, currently $543.78 per week. "Even though 18 weeks is significant, for a lot of people who are earning above the federal minimum wage, 18 weeks pay at the federal minimum wage is not a huge amount. Having said that, it's better than nothing for a lot of people," he said.

- Zoe Lyon

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