Work and family support responding to changing needs

At the end of a recent IEU chapter meeting, a member said that she wanted to share some news. She told the meeting she was pregnant with her first child and her due date was in December.

After the joyful congratulations, the members at the meeting quickly turned to practical matters: How much leave are you taking? Do you know about giving notice for leave? Are you aware of the 18 weeks Paid Parental Leave (PPL) from the Federal Government? Do you think you will want to work part time after your maternity leave? Will your partner be taking some parental leave? And of course – tell the IEU when you commence your maternity leave so that you can receive the special membership rate!

These are all vital considerations for members and their families and represent hard-won gains by the union movement. Gains also have to be defended, as when the Abbott Government threatened the national Paid Parental Leave scheme introduced by the Gillard Government, and the IEU and other unions fought to protect the interests of members, especially those for whom the national PPL scheme is their only or major source of income during parental leave.

As economic and social circumstances evolve and new needs are identified, new campaigns are required and unions and their members step up to the challenge. For example, the ACTU and unions have campaigned for greater sensitivity for workers who experience the premature birth of a child or the very sad circumstances of stillbirth or the death of a child, and some amendments were made to the Fair Work Act in November of 2020. For example, the Fair Work Act was amended so that parents who experience premature birth, or other complications which result in the long-term hospitalisation of the baby, can pause their unpaid parental leave so that it can be used more flexibly at a challenging time for a family.

In NSW, the 2021 Budget introduced five days of paid leave for public sector employee parents who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth. The Federal Government has also recently introduced legislation which will add miscarriage to the compassionate and bereavement leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards that underpin all enterprise agreements.

More flexible access

Recognising changing community expectations, there has also been a campaign for more flexible access to parental leave by both parents, resulting in some 2020 changes to the Fair Work Act to facilitate shared caring responsibilities or a gradual return to work without breaching PPL requirements. In the NSW public sector, after campaigning by the Public Service Association, both parents will now be able to access up to 14 weeks of paid parental leave during the first year of their baby’s life.

Private sector accounting firm KPMG has recently announced that its paid parental leave scheme will be extended to 26 weeks with no restrictions around ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ carer status. The enhanced scheme will cover parents welcoming a new child through birth, adoption, surrogacy or foster care.

These recent developments are part of the context for the IEU in future negotiations as we respond to the evolving nature of work and family and the increased focus on flexible leave opportunities for both parents to be involved in the care of children.

IEU members should check the IEU Guide to Parental and Personal/Carer’s Leave in relation to their current entitlements or contact the union for specific advice or support.

Very best wishes to the member who announced her pregnancy at an IEU chapter meeting and we hope that she will benefit from the gains achieved by our union to date and the current campaigns for greater recognition of the diversity of work and family needs.