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Australia’s major step towards closing the gender pay gap

27 March, 2024Ten days after International Women’s Day, on 18 March, Australia enacted new legislation that will significantly extend Paid Parental Leave (PPL) for families and is a significant step towards addressing the gender pay gap.

The recently passed laws in the Senate mandate the expansion of PPL to 26 weeks by 2026, up from the current 20 weeks. This improvement is a part of the Albanese government's efforts to augment the scheme's accessibility, flexibility, and gender equity. 

 From July 2024, PPL will incrementally increase by two weeks each year, reaching a 26-week provision by 2026. The remarkable aspect of this extended period is that it will be shareable between parents, with a specific allocation of four weeks reserved exclusively for each parent, promoting a more equitable distribution of childcare responsibilities.

This reform is projected to benefit approximately 180,000 families annually, providing them with crucial financial support during the early months of parenthood. Trade unions in Australia have played an important role in the extension of PPL, from advocacy to public campaigns and research, to direct engagement with policymakers, highlighting the economic and social benefits of longer PPL. By forming broad coalitions and mobilizing public support, unions have effectively pushed for policies that support gender equality and benefit working families across the nation.

The trade union national centre ACTU President, Michele O’Neil praised the amendment:

“Increasing the length of time you get financial support and supporting the more equal sharing of caring responsibilities between men and women are long overdue improvements that showcase the Albanese Government's dedication to bridging the gender pay gap.”

She highlighted the detrimental "motherhood effect" on women's earnings, which sees a dramatic decline by 55 per cent in the first five years of parenthood. 

O’Neil underscored the positive correlation between enhanced PPL and women’s workforce participation, emphasizing the need for further improvements to extend the scheme to 52 weeks and to elevate the payment rate from the National Minimum Wage. This, she argues, is essential for a PPL scheme that truly serves the needs of women, families, and the broader economy.

Considering this pivotal development, IndustriALL's assistant general secretary Christina Olivier said:

"Australia's significant expansion of Paid Parental Leave (PPL) is not just a policy improvement; it's a social leap towards genuine gender equality. As we gear up for our Congress in Sydney, this reform presents an inspiring example of how trade union efforts and progressive policies can address longstanding inequalities in the workforce. It's an example of what we can achieve together in advancing the rights and welfare of working families across the globe."