A government-funded paid maternity leave scheme is more important then ever with Australian families now facing great economic uncertainty in the wake of the global financial crash, unions say.

“Most families instantly lose one entire salary when a child is born and the mother takes maternity leave,” said ACTU President Sharan Burrow in a speech to a Paid Maternity Leave Forum at the Hobart Convention Centre today.

“Despite the economic prosperity of recent years, this loss of salary has proven more and more difficult for families to cope with. In the current climate, it’s about to become even tougher.

“The ACTU says it is imperative that the Productivity Commission’s recent recommendation that the Rudd Government introduce 18 weeks paid maternity leave for all Australian women be included in the 2009 federal budget.

“A paid maternity leave scheme would provide real security at a time when Australian families need all the help they can get to weather the effects of the financial crisis,” said Ms Burrow.

Without such assistance, the ACTU believes there could be a sharp increase in the number of women unwillingly returning to work soon after the birth of a baby because of financial stress and uncertainty.