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Harre Speech: 3rd Reading Of Parental Leave Bill

March 28 2002
Speech Notes

Third Reading Of The Parental Leave And Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave) Amendment Bill


I move that the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

The passage of this bill into law has a significance beyond the first step it makes towards adequately assisting mothers and families to negotiate work and care responsibilities.

It is significant because it is a wake up call for our whole society. It says that while we were sleeping mothers transplanted themselves in massive numbers from the home to the workplace and demand to be recognised as equal partners in the world of paid work.

It is significant because it says that having babies is not a lifestyle choice. Not having babies on occasion is. But having babies is a perfectly ordinary part of the lives of most women, and should not cost them their wages or their employment opportunities.

It is significant because it rejects the mean-minded, means-tested model of income support. It consigns to history’s dustbin the notion that middle class families should have to fend for themselves and do not have a right to a share of collective resources. It replaces that especially stupid relic of the new right with the notion that we should all contribute to the collective pool and we should all be entitled to call on it.

It is significant because it says that women should not be forced back to work at the expense of their health and their baby’s development, compromising breastfeeding and making it difficult to establish that new and primary relationship. It says mothers and babies should have a first call on our resources.

It is significant because it means that New Zealand will no longer attract open-mouthed bewilderment around the world at our failure to provide paid maternity leave when we are a wealthy country and when even many of the world’s poorest countries have at least done something.

It is significant because it reminds us that progressive change begins springs from the dedication of a small number, and their desire to change the world.

And it is also significant because it is evidence of what a strong and united Alliance Party can achieve by publicly campaigning alongside women’s and workers’ organisations outside parliament while actively and co-operatively pursuing our goals within the government.

This Bill provides for women in paid employment to have their earnings replaced, up to a cap of $325 a week, for the first 12 weeks of their parental leave.

To qualify for leave employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months for at least 10 hours a week.

This Bill amends the definition of the 10-hour threshold.

From July this will mean an average of 10 hours work a week, rather than 10 hours work every week in the year before the birth.

This means people will qualify if they work variable hours, for example in on-call, rostered or shift work. More Maori and Pacific Island mothers will qualify, as will others on the lowest incomes who are more likely to miss out on their employment rights.

The definition of “spouse” is extended to include a same sex partner, consistent with government policy generally and adoptive parents will be able to nominate which of them is to be the primary recipient of parental leave payments

One of the more extraordinary lines of attack pursued by the National Party in the Committee stages of this Bill was that women should be given greater flexibility as to when they begin their leave.

I couldn’t agree more.

But as the Minister promoting this Bill I, unlike members opposite, had to take into account the views not just of workers but also of their employers.

So next time that Annabel Young or Anne Tolly complain that it’s not fair that women need either a medical certificate or their employer’s agreement to start their leave more than 6 weeks before the baby’s arrival, they should not complain to me but to the employers whose co-operation they are seeking.

I am also completely sympathetic to the concern that women who have not been employed by the same employer for at least twelve months before their baby’s due date will continue to miss out on the protections in this Act. But changing tenure requirements would impact on employers as well as pregnant workers. The Government wants to address this issue in a way that works for all parties to the employment agreement.

Another concern has been well articulated and relates to women in self-employment.

Again, the Government is very sympathetic to this concern. There are a number of issues that will need to be considered. For instance whether paid maternity leave is adaptable to the full range of forms of self-employment, or whether self-employed women themselves might identify higher priorities for assisting them in negotiating their business and care responsibilities. One size does not necessarily fit all.

Some groups of self-employed women are well ahead of their sisters already in achieving this sort of balance. Indeed many claim this as a major reason for choosing self-employment in the first place.

An example is the Sharemilker Agreement Order 2001, a document that is already far more progressive than most employment agreements.

It states that “where an owner employs a sharemilker with young children and the partner of the sharemilker is required to milk the cows the owner shall ensure childcare facilities are provided at the farm dairy where necessary.”

That is not to say that sharemilkers do not have further needs. But they might be different from employees generally and that is the kind of question that needs to be asked when this legislation is reviewed.

The Bill is a very significant first step for paid parental leave.

It means that from this July 20,000 families every year will see all or part of their mum’s income replaced for at least the first 12 weeks of time she takes off work with her newborn.

And because women’s wages are in general so much lower than men’s, and mother’s wages are lower still, for a significant number of those families all of Mum’s lost wages will be recovered. When compared to women’s earnings overall, $325 a week is 80 per cent or more of the earnings of nearly half of women wage and salary earners. For 61 per cent it equates to two-thirds of their earnings.

The significance of that support for those families should not be underestimated. The only survey to have been conducted by the Department of Labour on the uptake of parental leave demonstrated that 20 per cent of the mothers who take leave from their jobs return before their babies are 12 weeks old and for most because they can not afford to stay home with them.

We have already announced a review of the scheme a year after the amended Act takes effect. This will consider extending the scheme to more women and providing more to those who qualify.

I will continue to work towards extending the scheme and I know other colleagues inside and outside parliament will also.

So that more mothers qualify.

So that the length of leave is increased to the new ILO standard of 14 weeks at the very least.

And so that the amount we pay is at least as much as we pay to those recovering from rugby accidents and car crashes.


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