Editorial: Maternity employees are worth it

By Andrew Austin

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The issue of paid parental leave is a tricky one that needs to be handled correctly.

Many families can't afford to have the wife/mother stay at home these days as mortgages and rising cost of living make single income families the exception not the rule in many parts of New Zealand.

It is essential therefore that women are able to take time off to have children without feeling that their careers are going to suffer because they have made that choice.

It is a hot topic that is starting to get even hotter because Labour MP Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill is currently making its way through Parliament's committee stage.

Business NZ's employment relations manager Paul Mackay told the committee this week that it was difficult for employers to find suitable temporary staff to fill parental leave vacancies.

"Employers who have been forced to bear considerable replacement costs, or to find those amongst their other employees willing to provide cover, may well think hard before again employing a woman of child-bearing age."

After his submission, Mr Mackay dug himself into a deeper hole by comparing women on maternity leave to rugby players.

"If you're a rugby player and if you don't play for six months, you're rusty so the chances that you'll make the top team on the first day are not high. It's that sort of proposition where you're losing your sharp edge, your immediate availability, your immediate effectiveness diminishes if you're not engaged in the activity at the time." he said.

Mr Mackay's comments have, predictably, sparked outrage including from the director of Zonta Club Hawkes Bay Ailsa Allen, who rejected the claim.

After the furore he created, I am sure Mr Mackay is wishing he had not said what he said or, at the very least, said it slightly more tactfully.

Mr Mackay is on a slippery slope with this one. I just don't think extending maternity leave would put companies off hiring young women just in case they get pregnant. Most savvy bosses are prepared to cut good employees some slack because they know the kindness will be repaid by hard work.

The time for a mother to spend with her newborn child is important and it is better to have a valuable worker come back to work having spent quality time with her baby. A woman who rushes back to work afraid she has limited her career prospects by having a baby is justifiably going to be more stressed than one who takes more time.

Obviously there are cost implications, but then again skilled employees are worth waiting for and worth the expense.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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