Birthing, Bonding & Back-to-work for mums

Grandson Zachary is cared for by his mother Vanessa.

Grandson Zachary is cared for by his mother Vanessa.

One thing that fascinates me about the current feisty debate around  Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “signature” Paid Parental Leave proposed policy is that women, themselves, are not hailing this initiative as the best thing since sliced bread.  The hoo haa from men was always expected, because the vast majority simply continue to go off to work each day once children arrive.  Their superannuation upon retirement is big and fat after a long working life.  But it is the mothers who suffer the financial deprivation if they drop out of the paid workforce for any length of time.  And it is mothers who need to manage the domestic scenario in order to return to paid work. Which means arrangements for paid child care and weighing up the costs.

Where are the losers here if this policy passes the Senate?   Women, particularly low paid women in menial jobs, will be big-time winners.  They will be paid for six months at their usual salary – as a work entitlement – and surely this will give these women integrity as valued workers – and fortify their sense of independence and equality. Importantly, it also validates their important role as mothers-to-be bearing, birthing and raising children.  We have created a two-income society and in doing that, this country can no longer afford to provide middle-class welfare for women to stay at home indefinitely.

The Federal Government is on the right path to insist that once the last child is at school and reaches the age of 6, that it’s time for women to return to paid work.  Former  Prime Minister John Howard’s mantra that women needed choice, has run its course and because of the enormous debt the country finds itself in, tough decisions need to be made and implemented. It is madness to think that social policy does not yet fully underscore women to maintain their role in paid work as well as have children – the next generation.

This isn’t only about fiscal repair.  One of the saddest states of being for a woman is to find herself in her 60s, often alone and with very little superannuation of her own.  When freed of her family responsibilities and able to enjoy retirement, she is reliant on the age pension which provides little more than basic living standards for many older Australian women.

Paid Parental Leave for women who earn up to $100,000 will lay the foundation to build an uninterrupted working life as well as raising a family.  Disposable income drives our economy and also provides the funds to ensure the nation’s children enjoy their fair share of activities such as sporting activities, artistic endeavours and school outings.

This policy which delivers six months full pay, allows women time to bond with their newborn babies and enjoy mothering for the crucial first half year. It endorses women’s place as part of the fabric of the nation’s working life and builds an expectation that they will returning to their existing jobs. Figures support this with 69 per cent of women now in the paid workforce.  The sound idea is to ensure there are no gaps or obstacles  in women’s smooth transition from paid work, maternity leave and then returning to work. Which means government also needs to closely examine the issue of paid child care. Accessibility is still a problem and now, added to this is the much higher costs of childcare. Costs have risen 44 per cent over five years.

The Federal Government should also examine subsidising child care fees on a sliding scale of need. Availability of child care is still a stumbling block for many women along with its cost, especially for women with two children under five. These women are the ones who need to be encouraged to retain their links with work while establishing their two-child domestic world.  Having money in the bank at the end of paying child care fees is a great incentive to take on the juggling act of working and child-rearing.  The more low-paid a woman is, the more she is sensitive to childcare costs when deciding whether to return to paid work.

So let’s help them.  National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling figures shows only 43 per cent of childcare subsidies are paid to families in the bottom 60 per cent by income.  The current dual system – a means tested benefit and a universal rebate – needs to change to provide one payment which is means tested. This will ensure a higher percentage rebate goes to lower income workers.

One thing which would help households justify the woman’s return to work would be for husband and wife to share the cost of paid childcare so mothers can pocket more of the money they earn and fathers can have half the cost of childcare skimmed off their usually larger take-home pay packet.  Why should it be considered only the mother’s expense. Daddy should also bear the financial load fairly.

The long-term benefits for women of staying in the work force through their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s manifest in their 60s, 70s and, hopefully 80s and 90s, when their little nest eggs of superannuation can ensure a quality of life for them, either with their partners or alone.


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2 Comments to “Birthing, Bonding & Back-to-work for mums”

  1. By Vincenza, 27/06/2014 @ 1:44 pm

    Hi Nadine, beautifully written and makes a lot of sense to me, unfortunately the details of how the scheme would help any working woman was not explained well enough, and the general media, the way it should have been explained, is as you say, women in low pay and menial jobs are the winners..
    Hope you are keeping warm x

  2. By Nadine Williams, 27/06/2014 @ 2:44 pm

    Dear Vin, Many thanks for your feedback. I shall return to the story on the weekend, rihgt now I am very busy with a few other deadlines and getting my printer to work. Keep well and see you soon. Nadine

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