The Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission's agreement to insert parental leave provisions into a big group of WA awards has been described as a major step towards shattering a common belief that child nurturing is solely women's responsibility.
Productivity and Labour Relations Minister Yvonne Henderson said the endorsement by the State Industrial Relations Commission would give men and women equal access to time off following the birth of their children.
"The decision will allow men to take up to 12 months unpaid leave to become the primary care givers for children," Mrs Henderson said.
"However, paternity and maternity leave cannot be taken concurrently except for a one-week period from the birth.
"The change reflects the need for greater flexibility in child rearing because of the continuing trend towards two-income families and the greater involvement of fathers in the care of children.
"It is a matter of equity that families should have the option of the mother remaining in the workforce and the father taking on the role of principal care provider for the child.
"Families should be able to decide the best arrangements for the care of their children."
The parental leave clause will be included in 21 awards and agreements to which the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union is a party, and covers about 14,000 public sector employees.
The FMWU's application to the Commission was supported by the Government as public sector employer.
The new clause includes provision for pregnant women to continue working up to the expected date of birth, subject to medical approval.
"Public sector employers have had discretion to let women work longer, but the new clause makes that entirely a matter for the woman and her doctor," Mrs Henderson said.
"Overall, the changes amount to one of the most positive steps forward since maternity leave was added to a group of key WA awards in January 1980.
"It is now up to unions throughout the State to submit applications to the Commission for a flow-on of the provisions to the benefit of their members, both men and women."