Federation is working with Unions NSW in its campaign against some of the aspects of the 2015 Federal Budget which will be of disadvantage to women. Most teachers with children will be hit, but women across the board will wear a disproportionate share of the pain from this budget.
The proposed changes to paid parental leave means that, from July 2016, people who get parental leave pay from their employer will no longer be able to access the 18 weeks at the minimum wage available from the Commonwealth. This applies to most teachers taking maternity leave. Typically, teachers have been taking this payment after having exhausted their Departmental paid leave, to spend longer at home with a new baby. Despite the talk of double-dipping, forcing new parents to cut short time at home is an attack on public servants, unionists and their children — it has nothing to do with fairness. The scheme was always intended to be a minimum safety net, used in conjunction with employer funded entitlements.
There is plenty of evidence to show there are social, health and economic reasons to support new parents to spend up to six months at home with their new babies. Even the World Economic Forum promotes longer parental leave because of its positive impact on women’s participation in the labour force.
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, in his announcements regarding childcare changes, said that, “Childcare is not a welfare payment,” because of its role in increasing workforce participation. Clearly it is inconvenient to describe paid parental leave in the same way, despite the evidence that is has similar impacts.
Some teachers could also be seriously disadvantaged by the new activity test for access to childcare subsidies. To access any subsidies, people must now work at least eight hours per fortnight, with the subsidy entitlement increasing when more hours are worked. Given the fact that a school day is likely to be counted as no more than six and a half hours (irrespective of how many hours are actually worked) and that many childcare centres charge only for full days of 10 to 11 hours, a casual teacher may only have to miss a single day of work when his or her child is in care to lose their subsidy entitlement. The unpredictability of casual employment will now be compounded by an unpredictability of the cost of childcare. With greater casualisation, and the possibility that a part time casual teacher’s working hours will be calculated solely on teaching time, the problem is likely to be more pronounced in TAFE. Casual teachers have had difficulties excluding vacation periods when Centrelink assesses breaks in work for other payments, so it is also possible a casual teacher will not be considered to be meeting the activity test during holidays.
Losing childcare subsidies while on maternity or parental leave for subsequent children could force some teachers out of the workforce for longer, particularly in areas where demand for childcare is high and centres have waiting lists of several years. Negotiating part time work around availability of childcare and school timetables or class allocations is already challenging. This problem will only be exacerbated if teachers are forced to withdraw their older children from care while on leave.
The impacts will be worse for vulnerable children whose parents are already marginalised from the workforce, potentially excluding them from valuable early childhood education.
The National Foundation for Australian Women has published an analysis which shows that cuts to funding for education, health, community legal centres and more will be felt more severely by women than men.