HSU National strongly opposes the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Amendment Bill 2015 (the Bill) on the grounds that its core provisions radically undermine the policy intent of the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 (the Act). In addition to this short submission, we support the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ submission to the Committee and endorse its recommendations.

According to the Government’s own estimates, the changes in the Bill will disadvantage over 79,000 parents, with 43 per cent to lose access to the Government scheme entirely. Our members, the vast majority of whom are women working in the public sector, will be disproportionately impacted by the Bill’s provision to reduce or eliminate the 18 weeks of government funded paid parental leave (PPL) to parents who also receive employer-funded PPL. Moreover, this particular provision flies in the face of the objectives of the Act as recommended by the Productivity Commission in its 2009 report to the Rudd Government.

From the outset, the Government scheme was always designed to act as a supplement to employer-funded schemes and since its introduction workers, unions and employers have bargained under this assumption. Indeed, the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that the scheme be paid at the minimum wage was predicated on a belief that employers would “restructure their existing leave schemes to top-up government funded leave to full replacement wages and then use the balance (if any) to extend the period of leave at full pay.” (Productivity Commission, 2009, Paid Parental Leave: Support for Parents with Newborn Children: 7.21)

This mix of public and private PPL funding was aimed at meeting the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that 26 weeks of PPL maximises health and wellbeing outcomes for both parents and newborns in a fair, equitable and fiscally sustainable manner. However, the provisions contained within this Bill will ensure that this goal will not be met.

This is not simply conjecture. Already, the language used by senior Government Ministers when promoting the Bill—language implying that parents accessing both the government and employer schemes are “rorters”, “fraudsters” and “double-dippers”—has been used as a justification by some employers to end their current PPL schemes. In a recent bargaining round with Lake Imaging Geelong, the employer included a claim to remove all PPL entitlements on the grounds that the Government scheme was adequate and therefore they should have no part in providing their employees with their own scheme. The Committee should note that Lake Imaging is the fourth largest radiology company in the country, with sites in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia—should this Bill be passed we expect to see more employers attempting to withdraw PPL entitlements to their employees by deploying the same rationale.

HSU National also opposes the Bill’s provision to end the employer paymaster role in administering the Government PPL scheme. Again, the Productivity Commission recommended in its design of the scheme that while it should be funded by general Commonwealth taxation revenue, payments should be disbursed by the employer to reinforce the norm that PPL is a workplace entitlement, rather than a welfare payment. While the Government claims that removing the employer paymaster role is designed to reduce administrative and employer compliance costs, the 2012 evaluation of the the scheme found that over 4 in 5 employers (81 per cent) agreed that organising payments was easy and the same proportion found that establishing the scheme has been easy to implement in their organisation. This suggests that the Government is trying to address a problem which does not exist, while at the same time ignoring the other benefits conferred to employers by directly administering the payment such as improved staff retention as workers are more likely to be attached to their particular workplace—a key factor in driving productivity.

HSU National appeals to the Committee to recognise the critical social and economic importance of adequate PPL and the vital employer paymaster role in maintaining the norm that PPL is a workplace entitlement. We urge the Committee and the Senate to reject the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Amendment Bill 2015 in its entirety.