While small progress has been made since the introduction of the Australian Paid Parental Leave Act in 2010, the basic structure of the scheme appears to have stalled.
Bigger steps need to be taken, and now, to address an entrenched lack of equality between men and women.
That’s according to two Sydney University researchers, who have just published a paper in the Journal of Industrial Relations, arguing that if more fathers took paid parental leave, it would create greater workforce participation for women.
Professor Marian Baird and associate professor Myra Hamilton from the University of Sydney’s Business School explained that while most primary and secondary carer paid parental leave schemes are available to men and women, the latest ABS data shows 95 per cent of primary carer leaves were taken by mothers, and 95 per cent of secondary carer leaves was taken by fathers.
According to Ms Baird, that certainly has an effect on gender equality.
“After almost a decade since the act was introduced, there’s been no movement in the duration of leave that’s accessible through paid secondary carer leave provisions like Dad and Partner Pay,” Ms Baird said.
The Dad and Partner Pay provision in 2013 was a significant amendment to the original scheme, but only provides two weeks of pay. It seems only around a quarter of eligible fathers and partners accessed the payments in recent years.
Ms Hamilton believes while both parents having time together at the birth of a child is important, the sharing of primary care over a longer period would lead to better and fairer outcomes.
“The short duration of secondary carer leaves like Dad and Partner Pay emphasise the role of fathers as ‘supporters’ at the time of birth, rather than being substantially involved in the care of their children in the early years,” she said.
In their paper, titled Gender equality and paid parental leave in Australia: A decade of giant leaps or baby steps?, the researchers outline the shortfalls of the original scheme that continue to act as a barrier to progress, and what needs to be done.
Ms Baird and Ms Hamilton believe the current scheme doesn’t allow for the equal sharing of leave between mothers and fathers, which means it was almost entirely taken by mothers.
Another disincentive for men to take up the paid parental leave is due to both paid parental leave and Dad and Partner Pay being paid at the national minimum wage.
“Governments need to work in consultation with employers and unions to improve the architecture of the original paid parental leave scheme, meeting the expectations of working mothers and fathers today,” Professor Baird said.