ABC News Online reports that the "The Federal Opposition is considering a new policy to allow parents to ask for two years of leave after the birth of a child."
Currently, most workers can request up to 12 months of unpaid leave – whether their employers grant them that much time is another thing, but most do get the full 12 months – on top of the 12 or so weeks of paid maternity leave that they may be eligible for.
My partner is currently on 12 months unpaid leave from her job, as she stays at home to be the primary care giver to our second child, who turned 8 months at the start of this month. I know that given the option, she would take two years. As it is now, she has to consider resigning from her job if she believes that our baby is too young to be placed in child care five days a week – or if she feels that she's not ready to leave him to return to work. The ABC also reports that "Labor is also considering allowing parents to ask for part-time employment when they return to work." Personally, think that is a good idea too. Labor's policy coordinator Lindsay Tanner insists that the policy is still in its early stages, saying:
"This, along with everything else that's in the raw draft of our platform proposal, is yet to go through a variety of consultation processes, including with the party leadership and senior shadow ministers".
What this probably indicates is that some in the ALP that think this is a very good idea, while others are afraid they will be painted as anti-business because of this. Positioning this as a policy 'idea' or plan in development allows them to backpeddle later if the flack gets too much.
"So we don't know what the outcome of this will be, but I think this proposition will drive the debate forward."
As it is, the conservative Howard government is already claiming the proposal will 'cripple' small businesss! Not unexpected from a government that prefers mothers just stay out of the workplace, and stay home to look after the kids – thus helping it to wash its hands of the crisis in child care availability and affordability! (In typical scaremongering, the government is also trying to link this policy with the threat of increasing unemployment and rising interest rates! sheesh!) Alternatively, Labor could push it harder if the policy resonates with their core constituency: working families who are concerned with the 'work-balance' and how their working lives may hurt their family lives. Perhaps increase its popularity with working women/mothers who've abandoned the ALP for the Greens.
I think the key to making this policy gain traction with the community is to not just focus on how this will alleviate the child care crisis, or resolve the quandaries faced by parents who feel they aren't ready to return to work or that their babies aren't ready for them to do so, but to focus on how this will allow all people to better balance their working lives with their parental responsibilities – and importantly to ensure this issue or policy isn't seen as just a women's issue but is acknowledged as one concerning men too.
I know there are many men – including friends of mine whom I've spoken with at length about this – who enjoy the time they take off from work to help raise their children – to the extent of becoming the primary care giver for their young child while their partner returns to work. Some take a year off, others decide to make it a permanent change, others return to work part time so they can continue actively raising their kids – each often feels it the best thing (though still the hardest or most challenging) they've done with their lives.
Let's have these men's stories come out in this debate, and let's make this a conversation about how each of us (whether male or female parents) can take the opportunity to raise our children more directly and continuously by taking time off from work to be with them – or at least know the option was there if we wanted to do it. And let's push it further: we should ask to be paid to do it!
[Image: famiglia, by spaceodissey
Labels: Australia, children, fathers, parenting, politics