The federal government has unveiled changes to paid parental leave rules designed to give greater flexibility to both new parents and their employers, but small business owners remain “discriminated against”.
Under current provisions, new parents are eligible for 18 weeks of paid parental leave, paid for by the government.
Yet as Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), told My Business, many small businesses, owners in particular, struggle with taking such a lengthy period of time in one bloc.
“For a small business owner, many of whom are women these days who have a baby, can only have taxpayer-funded paid parental leave if they take it within an 18-week bloc. And the experience of small businesses is having that much time out of your business just doesn’t happen,” she said.
“The way the legislation is written, say if you take 12 weeks and come back to work, you can’t then access the rest, which is really unfair.”
But this would change if the government gets its way, under a new series of proposals unveiled as part of the Women’s Economic Security Statement 2018 by Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations and Minister for Women.
Under the new policy, parents would be able to take a minimum 12-week bloc within the first 12 months, and then be eligible to take the remaining six weeks within two years of the birth or adoption of their child.
“This change reflects both working demands and personal preference supporting women and their families. It will be particularly beneficial to the increasing number of women who may be running their own business,” the statement said.
It noted that at present, around 2,300 Australian parents only access a portion of their government-funded parental leave pay.
The policy shift would take effect for children born or adopted from 1 July 2020.
Ms Carnell said the move is “a step in the right direction” for SMEs, but that her office is pushing for flexibility to be given to the full 18 weeks.
“Because small business owners often can’t have large chunks of time off work,” she said.
“They can have bits when they can get relief staff or someone to help, or when they might be a bit quieter, but paid parental leave is a taxpayer-funded scheme that is available to all women, and in fact their partners, who have babies, and small business owners should not be discriminated against.”
The government also announced it will seek to change the eligibility requirements so that more parents qualify, by increasing from eight weeks to 12 weeks the maximum break a new parent has had from work in the 13 months prior to the birth, as well as allow test periods to be changed if they had to cease work early due to a workplace hazard.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.