PM Gillard Mulls Return to Flexible, Part-Time Work for Employees Returning After Birth

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On January 1, 2011, Australian employees who had a child birth, were assured of 18 weeks of paid parental leave of at least $570 per week wage. The law covered both mother and father of the infant and was extended to full-time, part-time, seasonal, self employed and contractual workers.

To further help these working parents attend to their newborn infants while not neglecting their work, the Gillard government is planning to extend the country's flexible work laws to cover them upon returning from parental leave.

To be included under the planned review of the Fair Work Act, the changes to the law would also help employees who are affected by roster change.

"People make all sorts of arrangements for work, knowing what their roster is, building their child care around it and when rosters change that can be very difficult . . . During the course of the week we will be talking about protection from roster changes," The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Prime Minister Julia Gillard ahead of her return to Australia from Queenstown.

"Modern families can find it very difficult to balance the demands of work and the demands of caring for kids and sometimes the demands for caring for older relatives too. We want to make sure that our workplace relations systems is helping take some of the burden off modern families," she explained.

Although the planned change to law would grant the mums and dads returning from parental leave the right to request for flexible and part-time working hours, the employers would not be compelled to meet the request. However, Ms Gillard noted that 80 per cent of current right to requests are satisfactorily resolved.

In batting for the changes, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said it is important that family life is not drastically altered by sudden, unexpected changes to rostering at work.

"Child care centres and schools won't change their hours just because the boss might want to change your shifts around," he said.

"It's not about being burdensome or telling employers how to manage their workforce. It's simply asking for respectful treatment and good relationships at work," Mr Shorten added.

There has been a growing demand for more flexible working hours for Australian workers, not only those with new babies, but for the entire workforce. Studies by the University of South Australia said that flexible work hours benefit businesses in terms of higher productivity from employees.

One Aussie employer which had recognised the benefit of flexible working hours is Google Australia, which includes better work-life balance for their staff.

In an interview with 17,000 senior business people from 80 countries, the latest survey by consultancy firm Regus found that there is a growing global trend toward flexible working hours which also help enterprises cut overhead expenses, mainly office space rental.

However, the Regus Global Report released in March 2011 found that while 71 per cent of Australian companies believe that flexible working provides their staff with a better work-life balance, only 41 per cent of Aussie firms would allow senior staff flexible working practices which is in line with the global average.

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