Dad and Partner Pay: Implications for policy-makers and practitioners

CFCA Paper No. 12 – February 2013

A short history of Australia's family leave policies

Since 1979, female Australian employees employed on a long-term basis (i.e., 12 months or more) have been entitled to 52 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. The Maternity Leave Act in 1973 had earlier provided 12 weeks of paid leave to female Commonwealth employees (0.4% of the total female workforce) (ABS, 1975).

Subsequently, a number of international developments influenced Australia's early steps to acknowledge (during and beyond the first 52 weeks) the challenges faced by workers with families. For example, in 1990 Australia ratified the International Labour Organisation's 1981 Convention 156, "Workers with Family Responsibilities", which enables men and women to enter employment "to the extent possible without conflict between their employment and family responsibilities" (Wolcott, 1999).

In the early 1990s the Work and Family Unit was established in the then Department of Industrial Relations, positioning work-family balance as an industrial issue. The then Office of the Status of Women's awareness campaign of short duration, entitled "Sharing the Load", included a range of educational material to lessen the "inequitable ‘double-load' of women in performing paid and unpaid work" (Human Rights Equal Opportunity Commission [HREOC], 2005, p. 120). Also in 1990, the Industrial Relations Commission ruled that 51 weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth of a child could be taken by either parent.

In 1993 the Industrial Relations Reform Act established family responsibilities as a proscribed ground of discrimination and established enterprise bargaining as the primary wage-setting, leave-providing mechanism. The Special Family Leave Test Case in 1994 established the first minimum entitlement (for women and men) to carer's leave and the extension of the Sex Discrimination Act in 2011 further protects men and women against discrimination on family responsibility grounds.

As recently as 1998, the New South Wales government produced two brochures on "parental leave" entitled "Maternity at Work" and "Maternity Leave: It's Your Right". These brochures captured the state of play in the late 1990s, when it was generally accepted that parental leave was exclusive to mothers and that even they required support to access their entitlements (NSW Government, 1999).

The Fair Work Act 2009 provided an extension of the maximum period of unpaid parental leave from 12 to 24 months (Broomhill & Sharp, 2012). From 1 January 2010, Australia's National Employment Standards included flexible working arrangements, which mean that any employee who is a parent, or has responsibility for the care of a child,2 can request a change in their working arrangements (Fairwork Ombudsman, 2011b).

The National Employment Standards also include the provision that if only one person is taking the leave or if one member of an eligible couple wishes to take more than 12 months unpaid parental leave, the employee may request a further period of up to 12 months unpaid parental leave from their employer. If both members of a couple are eligible for unpaid parental leave, they may take up to 3 weeks of their leave at the same time in the period immediately following the birth or adoption, or in the period up to 6 weeks after the birth or adoption with the agreement of their employer.

Late in 2012, the Workplace Gender Equality Act was passed. This Act changed the name of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and aims to promote the elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender, including family and caring responsibilities.

The Paid Parental Leave scheme is based on recommendations made in the 2009 Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Paid Parental Leave (Productivity Commission, 2009), and was introduced on 1 January 2011. It provides 18 weeks of Parental Leave Pay at the rate of the national minimum wage (currently $606.50 per week before tax) for the primary carer, usually the birth mother. The primary carer may transfer some or all of their unused Parental Leave Pay to an eligible partner.

Dad and Partner Pay, also based on recommendations in the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report (Productivity Commission, 2009), was introduced on 1 January 2013. This statutory entitlement consists of a 2-week payment at the rate of the national minimum wage for eligible working fathers and partners. To receive Dad and Partner Pay a person must meet the scheme's work, income and residency tests, be caring for their child, and be on unpaid leave or not working during their 2 week Dad and Partner Pay period. Dad and Partner Pay complements the provision of unpaid parental leave under the National Employment Standards.

Footnote

2 The child must be under school age, or a child under 18 with a disability.