The Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s options paper on maternity leave released today was a welcome first step towards ending discrimination against most Australian women workers, the ACTU said.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Prue Goward was a welcome move forward and called on the Federal Government to take action to develop an appropriate Australian system to benefit all working women.

‘We welcome the fact that this leading Government agency is no longer talking about if Australian women should have maternity leave, but rather how it can be implemented,’ Ms Burrow said.

‘It is unfair and discriminatory that less than one-third of Australia’s working women have access to paid maternity leave, and most receive less than 12 weeks, with the average being far less,’ Ms Burrow said.

‘There is a clear need for Federal Government action because employers in the main have demonstrated that they are not willing to bargain for paid maternity leave,’ Ms Burrow said.

A new study by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) at Sydney University found only 6.7% of current enterprise agreements contained paid maternity leave provisions. Just 3.4% of private sector enterprise agreements and only 0.7% of AWA individual contracts provided paid maternity leave.

‘Most Australian women employees suffer serious disadvantage in their careers and incomes if they have a family. Australia lags behind the rest of the developed world in providing universal access to paid maternity leave,’ Ms Burrow said.

The ACTU and unions are pushing for a minimum standard of 14 weeks paid maternity leave, in line with the International Labor Organisation recommendations.