find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Insurance Lawyer (3-5 PAE)
Category: Insurance and Superannuation Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Dynamic organisation ·
View details
Legal Counsel
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: North Sydney NSW 2060
· 18 month fixed term contract · 3-5 years PQE with TMT exposure
View details
Paid maternity leave re-enters national debate

Paid maternity leave re-enters national debate

WORKPLACE RELATIONS lawyers will have further changes to contend with following the announcement by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland that he intends to begin national consultations on…

WORKPLACE RELATIONS lawyers will have further changes to contend with following the announcement by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland that he intends to begin national consultations on signing the Optional Protocol to the International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick welcomed the announcement as “an encouraging sign of commitment by the Federal Government to re-enter the international stage as a leader in the promotion of women’s rights”.

However, Broderick expressed concern that the Australian Government retains its reservation under CEDAW regarding the right of working women to access paid maternity leave (the right to paid maternity leave is contained in article 11(2)(b) of CEDAW).

When Australia ratified CEDAW in 1983, it expressly refused to agree to provide paid maternity leave for Australian women and placed a reservation so that it would not be bound by article 11(2)(b).

“In this, the 25th anniversary of Australia’s ratification of CEDAW, it is time to remove this reservation,” Broderick said. “Paid maternity leave is a basic human right for working women.”

The issue of paid maternity leave remains contentious in Australia, and continued government resistance risks putting the nation out of step with international standards, Broderick cautioned.

“Really, we’re only one of two OECD countries that don’t have a national paid maternity leave scheme,” Broderick said. “The Scandinavian countries have extended — some of them up to three years — paid maternity leave but they have a very different social security system.

“Whereas you look at a country like the UK, they started with a scheme of 26 weeks and then they moved it to 39 weeks and now they’re looking to move it to 52 weeks,” she said. “I think the key point is that these schemes are built in a progressive manner and they’re really informed by experience over time.”

HREOC is advocating a comparatively modest paid maternity leave provision. Stage one of the scheme would carve out 14 weeks’ paid leave for the mother. There would also be a provision for two weeks’ paid supporting parent leave for partners. Stage two would move towards an extra 38 weeks of paid parental leave.

The leave would be paid at the national minimum wage. Broderick says that concerns about the costs of such a plan should be weighed against the need to resolve the skills shortage by making the most of an underutilised skills set — namely mothers.

The optional protocol will also give Australian women the option of seeking international redress for abuses of their rights under CEDAW. Currently, women can bring their complaints to HREOC, which has its own conciliation service. If they don’t get what they want there, then they have only the costly option of pursuing the claim in the Federal Court or Federal Magistrate’s Court.

“Once the government signs this optional protocol it will mean that women, even if they don’t get what they want through the court system, will be able to take their complaint into an international jurisdiction into the committee of CEDAW,” Broderick explained. “At that point it’s called bringing an individual communication to the CEDAW Committee.”

This doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to handle complaints, and Broderick admits it is not necessarily the most “expeditious” method. She envisions the CEDAW system as acting as a “back-up” to the domestic legislation,

“I suppose the thing for women is that sometimes governments bring into a place domestic laws which are meant to represent all the obligations under an international convention, [and] sometimes that doesn’t quite happen.

“This means that women will be able to move outside just the domestic forum. So if you look at the sex discrimination act, it embodies most of the rights of CEDAW with the reservation on paid maternity leave. But the optional protocol will provide a kind of back-up for the domestic laws …” she said.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Paid maternity leave re-enters national debate
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC
Aug 17 2017
Where social fault lines meet the justice gap in Aus
After just returning from a tour of the Northern Territory, LCA president Fiona McLeod SC speaks wit...
Marriage equality flag
Aug 17 2017
ALHR backs High Court challenge to marriage equality postal vote
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has voiced its support for a constitutional challenge to ...
Give advice
Aug 17 2017
A-G issues advice on judiciary’s public presence
Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis QC has offered his advice on the public presence of jud...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...