Want a mother’s vote? Paid parental leave is not the answer | Women's Agenda

Want a mother’s vote? Paid parental leave is not the answer

Ask any working mum about her secret to success and there’s one common denominator: access to quality and affordable childcare.

Despite existing benefits and the introduction of paid parental leave by the Federal Government, Australian families continue to rate the affordability of childcare as a key election issue, saying they will vote for the party who offers tax breaks, according to the latest poll.

Interestingly a survey of more than 1000 professional women, conducted by Women on Boards, shows the coalition’s paid parental leave policy has not struck a chord with many of the women it would benefit most. The majority of survey respondents did not support the proposed policy. Those respondents rated pay equity, women in leadership and childcare as more important policy priorities.

New research of 416 working women commissioned by sphinxx, a founder of childcare lobby group Make Care Fair, found that childcare is key to balancing children and careers. And parental leave at their actual wage is what women want.

Key findings:

  1. 57% say the cost of childcare has hit their career, but not their partners (74%)
  2. 75% of respondents found it difficult to find available quality care while they worked
  3. 58% say that the cost of care has led to a reduction in their working hours
  4. 75% would vote for a party offering up to 6 months parental leave at their actual wage
  5. 95% say tax deductibility of childcare would attract their vote; and 82% would vote for the party extending rebates to in-home care

(Download the full survey results here)

When you think about it, it’s not surprising that childcare is on the radar of so many working women: it’s the key factor that determines whether or not returning to work is viable, or even possible, post parenting.

Yet despite moves by the government to strengthen parental leave and child care benefits, women’s careers are still being impacted by their ability to access quality affordable care. This needs to change before we’ll see more women working through their parenting years and up the career ladder into leadership roles.

And as the single biggest work-related expense for working parents, it’s no wonder so many are crying out for tax deductibility. Why is it that we can deduct expenses for laptops, iPhones and cars, but receive no tax breaks for daycare or the in-home care so necessary for those working irregular hours or unable to secure a daycare place?

Paid parental leave is important too to buffer the immediate financial impact of career breaks, and overwhelmingly women want this to be paid at their actual pay.

And why shouldn’t they be? After all we pay tax on our actual pay; we receive sick leave, annual leave and long service leave at our actual pay; and we build our family budgets on our actual pay. Which for most is not the minimum wage of $622 per week.

The Coalition’s proposed parental leave policy – offering 26 weeks paid leave for mothers and 2 weeks for fathers at their actual pay – may not be perfect but overwhelmingly it’s seen by women as a good step forward.

Yes, it may be better to assign the benefits to primary and secondary carer roles rather than mum and dad; yet reality dictates it’s still women who are most impacted by career breaks and they deserve financial support.

And what I love about the scheme is that it levels the playing field for all workers, whether self employed, in small or big business or even public service. And that is fair.

Contrast that to the present scheme, where many will receive parental leave at their actual pay, plus they get the Government’s 18 weeks at minimum pay too. Shouldn’t the workplace entitlement be the same, whether you work for the corner shop or a corporate office?

For example if you work for the Federal Government you get 14-16 weeks full pay or 28-32 weeks half pay; or Australia’s biggest companies like BHP Billiton offer 18 weeks full pay, Westpac offers 13 weeks, CSR Limited offers 10 weeks, and so on. All at full pay. PLUS the 18 weeks at minimum under the current Government scheme.

With just over a week until election day one thing is clear: women know what they want and they’ll make their vote count.

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