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Paid maternity leave has been getting a run in the media over the last week or so. Apparently Australia is one of the few countries in the OECD where it isn’t compulsory. However, there are a few forward thinking companies that already offer paid maternity leave, such as some local governments and corporates.
Being a bit of a capitalist, I can understand the unwillingness of particularly small and medium businesses to back paid maternity leave. Although the government seems reluctant to introduce a system totally funded by business, there will no doubt be some cost to be born by the employer.
Largely it is being touted as a way to encourage women to stay in the workforce, but there is no guarantee that this would be an outcome. In fact, it could act as a disincentive to hire women in the first place.
On the other hand, being a mum I can totally understand the advantages to families if paid maternity leave were to be offered. The first few weeks with a newborn are hectic and stressful enough (and wonderful too) without the added concern of finances or trying to get back to work. The guilt associated with leaving a new baby to return to the workforce can be enormous for mothers. Being able to spend those first months with baby is just so important.
So is there a happy medium between the welfare of families and the goals of business? Probably not one that’s going to meet everyone’s expectations. My view is that a minimum wage payment funded by the government with top up payment from the employer that accrues similarly to long service leave (although over a shorter period) is a fair way to handle things.
Would you favour an employer that offered paid maternity leave? Has paid maternity leave (or lack thereof) affected your decision to have kids? I’d be interested to hear from small business owners too – how do you feel about paid maternity leave?