Doctors are being penalised under employer parental leave schemes because the need to change jobs during training means many are unable to meet the minimum 12-month employment threshold to access them, it is being argued.
The issue has been raised by the AMA’s Tasmanian branch after the State Government announced new standard conditions for parental leave in all public sector awards.
Under the reforms, primary caregivers will receive 18 weeks of paid parental leave, while secondary caregivers get four weeks paid leave from the time of birth.
Secondary caregivers can also access another 12 weeks if they take over primary care responsibilities within the first 19 months of the child’s life.
But while the scheme has been welcomed by doctor groups, AMA Tasmania vice president Dr Annette Barratt says specialist registrars in particular are missing out due to the requirement that employees remain under the same position for at least 12 months to qualify.
As a result, pregnant doctors who give birth before the expiration of their twelve months qualifying period are not eligible for paid maternity leave.
“As registrars, they are a mobile group and are required to broaden their skills by going interstate to complete specialised training they cannot do in Tasmania; some then return pregnant but are ineligible for paid maternity leave,” she says.
Dr Barratt said in one recent example, a doctor missed on paid leave after giving birth just three weeks before the expiration of the 12-month qualifying period.
“This is effectively penalising women based on an arbitrary timeline and can lead to potentially harmful outcomes for both the doctor and their baby if they are forced to return to work faster than he physical recovery time needed,” she said.
The AMA branch suggest a potential fix would be to allow for paid parental leave under the 12-month qualifying period but requiring the recipient to stay within the state’s health system for a fixed period or have to pay the entitlement back.
“We believe there needs to be a review of the twelve-month qualifying period for mothers for paid maternity leave in the medical workforce,” Dr Barratt said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s reforms to paid parental leave, which will adjust the income test and allow more sharing of entitlements, are due to come into effect in July.
It follows a campaign by doctors’ groups as well as KPMG and the Business Council of Australia, that argued the current system was unfair on birth mothers because the means test only accounted for the income of the primary caregiver, and not the other parent.
Under the new arrangements there will be a household income threshold of $350,000 per year.
The changes will also allow fathers and partners to receive payments under the scheme at the same time as they receive employer-funded leave.