Parents who have endured the heartbreak of stillbirth or infant death will now be given the same 12 months of unpaid parental leave entitlements as those with live born babies.
Equalising parental leave
The announcement means the guaranteed six weeks unpaid leave entitled for parents dealing with this specific trauma will be increased to a full year.
The move acknowledges that the previous provisions were “insufficient for many parents who need more time before they return to work,” Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said.
As it currently stands, under the Fair Work Act, an employer can ask an employee to return to work after a stillbirth, giving six weeks notice.
But the new law, to be introduced in autumn, entitles parents to take as much time as they need within 12 months after a stillbirth or infant death.
Both fair and right
The Stillbirth Foundation Australia has praised the government for the move which they say they have been campaigning for for years.
“Parents of stillborn babies are still parents, and six weeks is not enough time to grieve the loss of their babies. They deserve equal access to parental leave and this announcement makes that so,” the foundation’s CEO, Leigh Brezler said in a statement.
“This decision is much-needed, hard-fought and long-awaited. It will give families of stillborn children the same leave entitlements as parents of live born babies,” she said.
The foundation praised both sides of the government. They said there was a bipartisian approach on the decision which they say is “both the fair thing to do and the right thing to do.”
Six babies a day die as a result of stillbirth with little improvement to this figure in more than 20 years.
It’s a shocking statistic and just highlights how many parents are living this tragedy.
In a 2018 Senate inquiry into better and clearer supports for workers affected by stillbirth, leave was one of the key issues raised.
The committee heard evidence that suggested many employers are unaware of the trauma associated with stillbirth and the death of an infant.
The new laws will give parents the control over the time they need to grieve and heal, not their employer.
As well as equalising parental leave for parents of stillborn babies, further changes will see parents of premature babies or babies with birth-related complications who need immediate hospitalisation given the option of delaying their parental leave until they can take their baby home.
“Parents have told us how frustrated they felt by having to use up large amounts of their leave while their little one was in hospital, instead of being able to put it on hold until they needed it,” Mr Porter said.
“These changes will give parents that flexibility and ensure they will get to spend quality time at home with their child when they leave hospital.”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the proposal but stressed clear advice was needed for small business.