The Federal Government’s plan for a maternity leave scheme heralds a new era of support for families and is a vindication of the 30-year union-led campaign for a better deal for working women.

The day after the full details of the scheme were unveiled in the Federal Budget, unions and women’s organisations will celebrate the achievement of 18 weeks paid maternity leave for working mothers at events around Australia.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said: “The achievement of a national paid maternity leave scheme is an historic win for working women and their unions.

“We would like to thank all those Australian women and their supporters who have worked tirelessly and kept up the momentum over a long period of time to achieve this significant social reform.

“Unions won the right to unpaid parental leave for women in the private sector in 1979, and are now able to count the national paid maternity leave scheme as a further gain for the union movement.

“Our next steps will be to ensure the scheme is fully implemented in 18 months time and to assist women workers to bargain for full replacement of their wages. Unions will also campaign to reduce the gender pay gap for women workers, improve women’s retirement savings and promote more family-friendly workplaces.

The Howard-Costello Government failed women and families over paid maternity leave. Now its time for the Coalition to declare its hand and tell Australians whether they will support legislation needed for the scheme to start from 1 January 2011.

“We will be lobbying the Coalition, the Greens and Independents to support the Government scheme on the basis that paid maternity leave is an important support for families, stimulates the economy and promotes greater workforce participation.”