Premature birth leave announced by NSW Government

TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2021

Women working in the NSW public sector who give birth to a premature baby will now have access to additional premature birth leave.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced the new measure in today’s 2021/22 NSW Government budget, saying "Premature babies need acute care, and that time should not come out of parental leave".

Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor said under the changes, special paid leave provisions will be provided for public sector employees who have pre-term births.

“A new arrival is always a cause for celebration but sometimes an early entry can have unexpected consequences,” Mrs Taylor said.

“This leave for mothers who give birth to a pre-term baby, and their partners, will be available from the date of the early birth, up to when the birth normally would have been expected.

“It will be provided in addition to the paid parental leave that is available to employees whose baby is born after 37 weeks, ensuring families with pre-term babies have the time and resources they need for the best possible start to life.”

As Australia’s leading organisation supporting premature and sick newborns, their families and the hospitals that care for them, Miracle Babies Foundation has long recognised a gap in paid parental support for these families.

Every year in Australia more than 48,000 newborn babies require the help of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN). Caring for these babies creates added pressure on families’ emotions, time, and finances. Parents of premature babies often find themselves needing to take leave from work unexpectedly and much earlier than anticipated.

Miracle Babies Foundation welcomes the announced changes, acknowledging it will help ease some of the burden these families face, and look forward to working with the government and the private sector to help improve parental leave standards for families all around Australia.

Well done to the NSW Government for highlighting this important need and supporting families through this vulnerable time. We ask all State Governments to follow this commitment and the Commonwealth Government to also acknowledge the needs of these families in the Paid Parental Leave legislation and to support those in the private sector. This will be a huge help to many families across NSW,” said Miracle Babies Foundation CEO and CoFounder, Kylie Pussell.

Miracle Babies will continue to advocate for improvements to the Australian Government Paid Parental Leave legislation, to better accommodate families with a sick or premature baby in hospital. We most recently partnered with the Centre of Research Excellence for Newborn Medicine at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and The University of Melbourne to undertake an important research study into experiences of paid parental leave in Australia and the financial impact of having a baby requiring neonatal intensive or special care after birth.

We need to support families to be with their premature or sick babies during the first year of development. Current parental leave legislation in Australia does not take into account that many parents of premature or sick babies may spend weeks or months with their baby in hospital. This means that some parents are having to go back to work whilst their baby is still in hospital, take leave without pay or are forced to resign from their jobs. This has huge financial impact on families who are already under increased stress,” says Associate Professor Alicia Spittle from the Centre of Research Excellence for Newborn Medicine at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Australia is falling behind OECD countries when it comes to paid parental leave

In Australia, current parental leave allows employees to take time away from work for the birth of their children. Eligible employees who are the primary carer of a newborn receive up to 18 weeks' paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. In addition to this, eligible working dads and partners (including same-sex partners) get two weeks leave paid at the national minimum wage (Reference: Fair Work Ombudsman - Parental Leave).

Research conducted by Miracle Babies Foundation found 83% of families surveyed experienced additional financial impacts on their family above the normal expected impact of having a newborn as a result of having a baby born requiring specialised hospital care.

"Being able to be with your child while they are in NICU is a total necessity. If I had been in the position that I had to return to work after the Centrelink payments were up my daughter would have been equivalent to a 2 month old baby. There is nothing that is ok about a parent leaving a vulnerable baby at that age because of financial reasons. Health and emotional reasons are at the heart here." - Miracle parent from the survey

Off the back of our initial survey, which highlighted the strong need for improved paid parental leave, we lobbied the federal government with a signed petition of 5917 names calling for more to be done.

"I lost 10+ weeks of paid work (being casual with set hours each week) due to having bubs born at 25 weeks. We lived an hour away from the hospital. This put extra strain on our financial position and time spent with bubs. Extra help from the government would have helped even if it was just a little bit."  Miracle parent from the survey.

While we have gained incredible changes to the unpaid parental leave scheme, and now this announcement in NSW regarding paid leave for the public sector, we know Australia is falling behind other OECD countries when it comes to best practice regarding paid parental leave for families of sick or premature newborns; with New Zealand already providing extra paid parental leave for premature babies. We look forward to further collaboration with the Commonwealth Government to work towards positive change for families of premature and sick newborns.

Alongside today’s pre-term birth leave announcement, the NSW government will also introduce paid leave for public sector employees after the miscarriage of a child. Any employee - in full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary work - will be able to access five days of leave if they lose a baby up to 20 weeks old through miscarriage.

Both measures will come into effect on July 1, 2021.