Australian Women Pay High Price for Maternity Leave

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Australian women can take maternity leave, but they pay heavily for it -- sometimes for three years after their babies are born.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports they are paid less than women who don't take maternity leave, even if they all started out on the same pay scale.

"The women are going backwards because they took time out of the workforce while their colleague are progressing down the career path," David Baker, a researcher at the Australia Institute, an independent think tank, tells the Herald.

Baker and his fellow researchers found that, after being back at work for a year, women who took maternity leaves were paid an average of 4.4 percent less than other women. By the third year, researchers found, that gap widens to an average of 12.3 percent.

This research comes as the Australian government is considering new parental leave legislation that would give most parents 18 months of paid leave starting in January.

Careful, Baker tells the Morning Herald.

"The new system does not address the potential future disadvantage for women returning to work following maternity leave," he says. "Other evidence shows the greatest wage disparity occurs 10 years after childbirth."

Because of the hidden wage penalty paid by women who took maternity leave, Baker tells the newspaper, they will really only be getting 15 weeks of paid parental leave instead of 18.

Researchers tracked wages for 203 women who returned to work after maternity leave between 2002 and 2009, compared to wages of women who kept working.

"The paid parental leave scheme is very welcome, especially for the majority of women who are working part-time or in low-paid jobs and didn't have access to paid leave before," Baker tells the Herald. "But complementary policies need to be developed, like keeping women more connected to to the workforce during leave."

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