With the Government's paid parental leave scheme expected to be passed today, calls have been made for greater protection against the risk of discrimination.
Australian Women Lawyers (AWL) is supportive of the Government's scheme on the basis that it will help to ensure greater participation of women in the legal profession. However, it is concerned about the potential ramifications of such a scheme where there is a lack of support through legislative amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA).
"It is crucial that any legislation introducing a scheme of government funded parental leave is implemented hand in hand with amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act. Such amendments will ensure that those who utilise paid parental leave will be legally protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and family responsibilities," said president of AWL Olivia Perkiss.
AWL noted that the Report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on its Inquiry into the effectiveness of the SDA in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality has been available since December 2008, and is urging further action.
"It is simply unacceptable for there to be any further delay in approving amendments to the SDA when such amendments would allow a scheme of paid parental leave to be as effective as possible," Perkiss said.
"The last thing we want our members to face is discrimination in the workforce because of their decision to take up paid parental leave. Amendments to the SDA will hopefully address any concerns that may arise because of the scheme and target the very issue that paid parental leave was designed to eliminate - discrimination and inequality against parents and women in particular," Perkiss said.
The Government's $260 million paid parental leave scheme entitles either the mother or father of a child 18 weeks' leave at the minimum wage, which is approximately $570 per week and will apply to babies born or adopted after 1 January 2011.
- Briana Everett