Under existing rules, expectant mums and dads cannot access any government parental leave benefits until after a child’s birth or adoption. The concern for some expectant mothers is they’re compromising their own health, and that of their unborn child, by continuing to work in jobs that put them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
It’s prompted pregnant mothers to take action and start a grassroots campaign to urge the government to overhaul the inflexible scheme and provide more weeks of paid leave. (See the petition link here)
Australia remains one of the least generous amongst OECD nations when it comes to paid parental leave. It’s woefully inadequate, with the average number of paid leave in other OECD nations upwards of 50 weeks.
Australia’s parental leave scheme is also heavily gendered centred on supporting primary carers only – namely birth mothers. Inevitably, this weds mothers to take on the sole responsibility the for caring. Fathers parental leave needs remain largely ignored. It’s time this changed. Now more than ever, expectant mothers and fathers need reassurance and support to ensure they can prioritise the health and wellbeing of their family.
In the UK, a “shortage of midwives on NHS maternity units has doubled since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, with one in five midwifery posts now unfilled, raising concerns about the safety of pregnant women, new mothers and newborn babies,” the Guardian newspaper in UK reported.
Australia may yet follow suit. The Change.org petition is imploring “the government to look after the future children of Australia and give them the best possible opportunity at a healthy life, by giving their mother an option to look after her maternal health and the health of her child during this unprecedented health crisis by allowing women to access PPL early and also by extending the current 18-week PPL scheme.”
Parents At Work, founding members of APLEN (Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network), is advocating for organisations and the government to extend and make flexible parental leave provisions so that women can take their leave earlier (to effectively self-isolate until the child is born) and extend their leave so that they still have adequate time with their baby in the early months of its life.
Furthermore, we ask that fathers and partners (often referred to as secondary carers) be equally supported by providing up to 18 weeks pay at minimum wage to bring it into line with primary carer benefits. It’s time for Australia to lift our standards on paid parental leave provisions to be in line with global best practice.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have the latest updates on COVID-19 as it relates to pregnant women. Below is a message from its President Dr Vijay Roach, reassuring women not to panic however to follow health guidelines at this time.
Emma Walsh is an advocate for working families and Founder of Parents At Work, a social enterprise membership organisation providing work + family education and policy advisory services to employers and industry.