Maternity leave stalls promotion

WOMEN who have taken paid maternity leave in the federal public service have been much less likely to be promoted in the following years, research by the Australian Public Service Commission has shown.

Federal public servants have had paid maternity leave since 1973 and have among the most generous provisions in Australia, with up to 12 weeks' paid leave.

The Maternity Leave Act also prohibits them from being discriminated against in employment or promotion decisions.

But the research, included in a Productivity Commission submission on paid parental leave, found women who took leave in 2000-01 were much less likely to have received promotions in the next six years.

The causes had not been examined, the Public Service Commission said.

The findings come as the Productivity Commission completes its first round of hearings into paid parental leave, with a final session in Melbourne next week. A draft report is to be completed by September with a final report early next year.

The Business Council of Australia said in its submission that paid maternity leave would improve the health of both mothers and children and provide a boost to workforce participation.

The council, which represents big business leaders, is backing a publicly funded maternity leave scheme under which working mothers would receive 14 weeks' pay at the rate of the minimum wage.

That length of leave puts it in line with the ACTU and another employer body, the Australian Industry Group.

Business Council chief executive Katie Lahey said encouraging women into the workforce would help maintain workforce participation rates and living standards as the population aged.

She said working mothers were under-represented in the workforce.

"(They) typically find the costs of workforce participation too high and the difficulties of juggling parenthood and work excessive," Ms Lahey said in the council's submission.

"We believe that as a society we need to find ways that make their workforce participation easier."

She said paid maternity leave was part of a "patchwork" of policies that could boost workforce participation, along with affordable and quality child care, flexible work arrangements and support for breastfeeding.

But the council has rejected calls for compulsory employer contributions to boost the amount of paid leave. A Business Council spokesman said it was "up to each business as to what they think is suitable for their enterprise".

The council's position on employer contributions puts it at odds with unions.

The ACTU wants 14 weeks on full pay, with the Government to pay up to the rate of the minimum wage and with employers required to make up the difference.

It argues that would cost most employers less than $600.