Open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as Prime Minister of Australia. The 33,000 members of the Independent Education Union of NSW and the ACT hope that your new leadership will steer Australia towards fairer outcomes for all people.

One important step in that direction would be to support women in the workplace and allow them to spend 12 months off with their new babies if they so desire.

Rejecting the proposal by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to stop women from accessing the paid parental leave scheme to supplement any employer entitlements they may have beyond the maximum 18 weeks leave paid at the minimum wage would be a welcome move.

The Paid Parental Leave Productivity Commission Inquiry Report 2009 said paid parental leave was introduced to “improve wellbeing of families, and in particular child and maternal health, associated with an extended period of absence from work around the birth of a baby and secure financial support during this period”.

As a father and grandfather yourself, you would understand the need for time at home for mothers with young babies. This issue is crucial for the mostly female teachers, support staff, and principals in non-government schools represented by the IEU.

You may remember how important it was for your own daughter Daisy to be able to take extended leave from her teaching position at a non government school when your grandson Jack was born.

All teachers – all working women in fact – should be able to enjoy time at home with their babies without suffering undue financial pressure.

Like your daughter Daisy, Elizabeth Heggart teaches in a non government school. Elizabeth is a Science and Maths teacher and IEU member whose daughter Sophia was born in August. She is enjoying precious time at home with her baby.

Elizabeth is entitled to 14 weeks paid leave from her employer plus 18 weeks paid parental leave. Using some long service leave she plans to take a year to care for her child. Being able to spend a whole year with Sophia, watching her growing and learning in the first year of life, is important to Elizabeth.

She said a reduction in paid parental leave, as proposed by former Prime Minster Tony Abbott, would be devastating for her, forcing her to go back to work sooner than she would have liked.

Paid parental leave, when introduced in 2011, finally brought Australia in line with other OECD countries, although many still provide more than Australia. The UK provides 39 weeks, Canada 50 weeks and Sweden 60 weeks paid leave. It is important to remember that employer based parental leave has been negotiated over many years as an industrial provision, often with foregone salary or other conditions as part of the bargaining process. Put simply, IEU members paid for the provision of paid maternity leave.

If the changes proposed by Mr Abbott are allowed to go through, Australia will go backwards compared to the rest of the world. Families stand to lose up to $11,000. Low income earners on as little as $20,000 a year could miss out on the scheme altogether.

As a father and grandparent, the members of the IEU call on you to ensure teachers like your daughter and Elizabeth are entitled to the current paid parental leave provisions.

You must prevent the Abbott Fairer PPL Amendment Bill from passing through Parliament.

Yours faithfully

John Quessy
IEU General Secretary
on behalf of 33,000 members of the
NSW ACT Independent Education Union