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State Public Sector Workers At Risk of Missing Out on Abbott’s Paid Maternity Leave

THERE is a very real risk that State Public Sector workers around Australia will miss out on Tony Abbott’s proposed 26 week paid maternity leave scheme. In announcing his scheme on Sunday Mr Abbott was asked about how it was to be funded and he indicated that he would be relying on state governments to contribute to the cost but was yet to have their agreement to do so. Yesterday it was revealed the shortfall in funding was around $1 billion per annum. Already West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has indicated his state won’t be funding the scheme saying ‘If Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister and the scheme is introduced, we will co-operate in terms of administration, but we will not be contributing money to the scheme.’ If State Premiers refuse to hand back to the Commonwealth $1 billion in funding it is reasonable to presume Mr Abbott will exclude State Public Sector Workers from the scheme.

There is a double blow in this for Tasmanian Public Sector Workers. Currently public sector workers are entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave from their employer at their normal rate of pay and 18 weeks from the Federal government capped at the minimum wage. This means that if State Public Sector Workers miss out on the 26 week scheme they would also no longer have access to the current Federal scheme of 18 weeks as that is being scrapped by Mr Abbott.

The CPSU is concerned that unions are effectively being asked to ‘vacate the field’ when it comes to paid maternity leave and to trust Mr Abbott to do the right thing. The CPSU in Tasmania is particularly uncomfortable with that for a number of reasons. Firstly, we question Mr Abbott’s bona fides on this issue. He is a new convert to the cause of paid maternity leave and until very recently he opposed any paid scheme. Secondly, he faces staunch opposition from many in his own party who see paid maternity leave as middle class welfare, and thirdly, his scheme is opposed by the big businesses on whose donations he relies. Together these factors must place some doubt on whether this scheme will ever be legislated.

Union members have fought hard over 30 years to achieve any paid maternity leave. Less than 20 years ago in Tasmania women had to use their sick leave as paid maternity leave. Since that time we have gradually negotiated the entitlement up to 12 weeks at full pay and the State Government has recently indicated support to increase that to 14 weeks. While we welcome a scheme that boosts paid maternity leave to 26 weeks we want guarantees our Members will have access to the scheme even if Mr Abbott can’t convince state premiers to fund it and we don’t want our current entitlements undermined – just in case Mr Abbott or a future Federal Government has another change of heart on this important issue.

 **This morning Premier Lara Giddings indicated that the Tasmanian Government was not in a position to fund the scheme.**

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