An employment lawyer has slammed the government for attempting to “punish” up to 50,000 pregnant women with “unAustralian” cuts to paid parental leave.
The Turnbull government tabled legislation on October 20 that would prevent parents from ‘double dipping’ by claiming both taxpayer- and employer-funded leave.
“Many mothers-to-be have already planned their maternity leave,” Bianca Mazzarella, employment lawyer at McDonald Murholme, told The New Daily.
“Retracting the scheme will leave many families struggling to make ends meet.
“As many working mothers rely on the scheme, if this new legislation is passed it will affect the health and safety of expectant mothers as many will feel forced to work as close to their due date as possible.”
In a speech to Parliament last week, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the changes would make the scheme fairer by removing payments from mothers on “higher incomes”.
Only 4 per cent of working mothers would lose all government support, Mr Porter said.
“This measure ensures that the taxpayer-funded PPL scheme acts as a fair safety net for those families who do not have access to substantial public-sector or corporate schemes.”
Labor opposes the changes. It estimated 80,000 women will lose some or all government payments, 50,000 of whom are currently pregnant.
The current scheme provides eligible working parents with a bloc of 18 weekly payments of $672, totalling $12,106, if they take time away from work to care for a baby or newly adopted child.
Parents are allowed to receive all 18 payments even if they also receive paid leave from their employer.
If the government gets its way, this so-called “double dipping” would be stopped from as early as January next year.
Under the new law, each week of employer payment would subtract a week from the government payment a parent is eligible for. For example, a mother with eight weeks of employer leave would only be eligible for 10 weeks of government leave.
But the government would still top up employer payments if they were less than $672 a week. For example, a woman receiving 18 weekly payments of $600 from their employer would receive a total of $1296 from the government.
Jenny Macklin, shadow minister for families and social services, said the legislation was a “direct attack” on the estimated 80,000 new mothers who will have their payments cut.
“We understand that 40-50,000 of those mothers are already pregnant, expecting their babies, and they will be up to $12,000 worse off as a result of this government’s cut to paid parental leave,” Ms Macklin told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.
“What this will mean is a very, very difficult choice for working mothers. Either they will have to cut short their paid parental leave to go back to work because they have to pay their bills and that will of course mean they have to spend less time with their babies. Or they decide to stay at home and of course that means they will be thousands of dollars worse off.”
The changes will apply from January 1, 2017 if Parliament approves it before the end of the year. Otherwise, it will come into force in April, July or October next year, depending on its progress through both houses.