Australian National University to give all new parents 26 weeks leave

Australian National University will now offer 26 weeks of parental leave to new parents, regardless of whether they are the birth parent or if they are the primary carer.

The move was announced on Thursday to coincide with International Women's Day and means that if a couple were both employees at the university they would be entitled to 52 weeks of leave between them.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt says staff were elated to hear about the new parental leave policy.

Photo: Jay Cronan

Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt said the announcement, while a surprise to staff today, had been two years in the making. Professor Schmidt said there would be "no little tricky bits" with the policy, but that there would be a time limit after the birth of a child for parents to use the leave.

"Care-giving is not just a female responsibility, so providing parents 26 weeks of paid parental leave, no matter what the circumstances," was important to the university Professor Schmidt said, noting that the policy acknowledged diversity in family structures.

"It essentially means partners if they work here can get time off for these 26 weeks as well," he said.

The new policy expands on what was agreed in the most recent enterprise bargaining agreement at the university, which included 26 weeks only for the mother of a child.

"I think we are close to world best practice at this point," Professor Schmidt said.

"I'm trying to make sure that when I talk to my colleagues in the University of Copenhagen that we're providing something similar to what, for example, Scandinavian countries do."

The new policy comes just weeks after former ANU academic Sophie Lewis revealed that she had faced homophobia and sexism in her bid to access parental leave at the university. Dr Lewis wrote on Twitter that she had been denied maternity leave by her funding body, the Australian Research Council, because she had not given birth to her child.

Professor Schmidt said that announcing the new policy was not a response to the publicity around Dr Lewis' situation, but that she clearly would have benefited from the new policy.

"This has been something, literally on my first day of work two years ago I said I want it. I'm rather sad that it wasn't in place last year so that she could have benefited from it. So it's not a reaction but certainly, she would have benefited from it" he said.

"It has been in the works here for several months and I'm therefore particularly disappointed that she had as much trouble as she did."

National Tertiary Education Union ACT Division Secretary Rachael Bahl said the union welcomed the announcement, but that more could be done to improve conditions for women at the university.

"We'd like to see them do more - including achieving Employer of Choice accreditation from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) as many other universities have," she said.

"We've launched a campaign this morning to coincide with International Women's Day because we know there is a lot more ANU can do to support women and we're determined to ensure that they live up to their responsibilities."

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