|Issue No. 156
|11 October 2002
Work and the Meaning of Life
Interview: The Wet One
Bad Boss: Like A Bastard
Unions: Demolition Derby
Corporate: The Bush Doctrine
Politics: American Jihad
Health: Secret Country
Review: Walking On Water
Poetry: The UQ Stonewall
Month In Review
The Locker Room
Direct Voting Rights
Iraq is a Gobalisation Issue Too
Letter to George Dubya
WTO and Schools
New Zealand Workers Win Paid Parental Leave
By Darien Fenton Vice president, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
Getting paid parental leave into the statute books represents a victory for the union movement, particularly the union women who had spearheaded a campaign for at least 12 years.
Before paid parental leave was introduced, NZ workers had the legal right to take various forms of maternity and parental leave.
Our law provided for 14 weeks unpaid maternity leave, two weeks unpaid paternity leave, 10 days unpaid leave during pregnancy and up to 52 weeks unpaid extended leave on the birth or adoption of a child.
The reality was many parents did not take the unpaid leave because they could not afford to.
NZ workers are now legally entitled to 12 weeks off if they have worked for the same employer for at least a year for 10 hours a week or more.
While on leave the worker receives full pay up to a cap of $325, which is around the level of the New Zealand minimum weekly wage. That payment comes out of general taxation.
Although unions welcomed the law, we're still campaigning for improved paid parental leave, as 12 weeks paid leave falls short of the ILO minimum of 14 weeks.
The NZCTU is also calling for wider eligibility and an improved level of payment.
While it is good that the lowest paid receive 100% of earnings, some workers will simply not be able to afford to take time off on a reduced income. Around nine out of ten women working full time still face a drop in income to go on paid parental leave.
But, it's a great step forward for women workers - a victory for all those women in unions and community groups who have fought long and hard for it.
The new law clearly establishes paid parental leave as an employment right, just like holiday pay and sick leave.
In my union, a union of predominantly low paid workers, paid parental leave has been warmly welcomed.
For many of our workers it means 12 weeks on full pay after their child is born.
It also puts us in a stronger position to bargain for more in collective agreement negotiations (our version of enterprise bargaining).
Service and food workers union members in Auckland's Sky City Casino achieved two weeks' paid parental leave in negotiations a year ago.
In recently concluded negotiations, they have improved that condition to two weeks on full pay, paid by the employer, in addition to the 12 weeks they are entitled to under the law.
Why did our trade union movement campaign so hard for paid parental leave? Why was a law which ensures a parent will be paid in the initial weeks after a baby is born necessary to ensure we have fairness at work?
Because, as is acknowledged in around 60 countries, paid paternal leave is good for workers, employers, families and the country generally.
Women's employment in New Zealand has hugely changed in the last 20 years.
Some years ago it was expected that women would take a few years out to care for children. Now most families are dependent on two incomes. In other families, single parents, most often women, are the sole breadwinners.
Fairer workplaces is reason enough to legislate for paid parental leave. But we campaigned on the basis of the raft of good reasons to introduce paid parental leave legislation.
Paid parental leave is good for workers. It establishes the right to take time off work to care for a newborn baby and for mothers to recover without losing their job.
Being able to take paid leave means uninterrupted career paths for women. It means years of skills and experience is not down the drain because of the birth of a child. It prevents the financial loss due to the birth of the child.
Without paid parental leave parents on high incomes were the only ones in a position to save properly for the birth of a child. Families on low and middle incomes are often those most dependent on a second income and are least able to afford unpaid leave.
Much has been made of the disadvantages for employers. In fact paid parental leave benefits employers.
Without paid parental leave, employers loose countless workers who have developed skills and experience which companies need.
How many valued members of staff leave to have babies? The cost to employers in terms of recruitment, advertising, interviewing, retraining and orientation is huge.
Without a minimum requirement only the largest and most profitable companies could afford paid parental leave. Small businesses could not afford to be market leaders.
Just as the Employment Contracts Act (NZ's anti-union labour law, in place from 1991-2000), did not enable the market to deliver consistently fair conditions for employees, the market did not deliver paid parental leave. That was why legislation was essential.
Paid parental leave is good for the economy and society. Working women are essential to our economy. If women are not retained in the work force and do not have the opportunity to maximise on their training and employer investment in them. The country is worse off economically.
Although children are the immediate responsibility of their parents, the value of good child rearing has benefits for society as a whole. Paid parental leave ensures that families can choose to take adequate leave and minimise the stresses on the family in this important time.
There are a number of international conventions binding states to provide paid leave. The ILO recommendation is for a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave.
The United Nations Convention On the Elimination Of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) binds participant states to take appropriate steps to introduce maternity leave on pay or with comparable social benefits.
When a Labour Government was elected in 1999, the union movement set out a list of goals to get fairer workplaces. Paid parental leave was a priority. NZ's trade union movement saw this as a basic workplace right, well overdue.
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