BHP Billiton’s announcement today of 18 weeks paid parental leave for its entire workforce is a significant endorsement of the basic standard being recommended for all Australian women in the Productivity Commission’s report to the Rudd Government.

“BHP’s scheme adds further strength to the overwhelming groundswell of support among workers and businesses who are urging Canberra to adopt an 18 week government-funded scheme in this Tuesday’s federal budget,” said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

BHP’s announcement follows a similar move earlier this week by the ACT Government to provide 18 weeks leave for public sector employees.

The ACTU President said a national, 18-week scheme in the current financial crisis would be an enormous help to families with newborns at a time when they most needed support.

“This is money that would go directly into spending on the necessities that go with having a new baby at a time when most families have been reduced to living on one wage.

“It also gives mothers adequate time to bond with and breastfeed their babies without financial stress forcing them back to work too early, sometimes within weeks, as is currently the case,” says Ms Burrow.

She said companies like BHP have also recognised that paid maternity leave is good for business by helping retain skilled, experienced female staff, and ultimately benefitting the entire economy.

A recent study by the University of Sydney found that fewer than a quarter of workplaces have paid maternity leave provisions in their collective agreements.

“Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of women in lower paid jobs with poor job security remain least likely to have access paid maternity leave,” says Ms Burrow.

“This is unfair on families and a drag on the economy.

“A national scheme must be included once and for all in next Tuesday’s federal budget announcement.”

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