Parents to benefit from long-awaited reforms to make long service leave 'fairer'

Taking time off when the children are little won't mean you have to wait ages for some long service leave. Photo: Lyn Osborn

Taking time off when the children are little won't mean you have to wait ages for some long service leave. Photo: Lyn Osborn

Taking more than a year of parental leave could no longer mean having to restart the long service leave clock, under changes proposed by the Victorian Government. 

Under current rules, if an employee takes more than 12 months of paid or unpaid parental leave, they lose continuity of service.

This means that the long service they had accrued is erased.

While there are some exceptions, this rule – which disproportionately affects women in the workforce – applies in most Victorian cases.

Under a suite of reforms proposed in a new bill which will be introduced into Victorian Parliament later this month, parents taking 12 months leave will not lose their long service leave entitlements, and will be able to accrue long service leave over that period.

The new rules will not be retrospective.

Some enterprise agreements, including the agreement covering teachers, have more generous parental leave entitlements, which means they have not been affected by the 12-month limitation.

Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins said the changes would make long service leave "fairer and more accessible for all Victorians".

"People shouldn't be discriminated against because they want to spend more time at home when their kids are born, or change their working hours to look after a loved one.

"The new laws will provide greater flexibility to women, families and those transitioning to retirement."

Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn, Daniel Victory, said the changes were a positive step forward.

"At the moment there are a lot of traps in the act and they mainly affect people with carers responsibilities and disproportionately affect women.

"If you take parental leave for longer than 12 months that can cancel your entitlement to long service leave, and you need to start accruing it again ... if you take maternity leave and it's longer than 12 months that breaks that service, the clock starts at zero need to start again."

Under further proposed changes, long service leave would be based on the average hours an employee has worked, rather than the past five years or12 months of work.

It will also allow workers to take long service leave for just a day, rather than in week-long blocks, while employees will also be able to apply for leave after seven years of work, rather than ten years.

Andrew Stewart, who is a professor of law at the University of Adelaide, said the proposed changes were a "modest but useful set of reforms".

"They plug the loopholes in the current system and allow the system to operate a bit more flexibly in terms of taking leave".

He said it was positive that it would no longer penalise people for taking leave but a radical reform would have allowed workers to accrue long service leave as they move between employers.

"The days of working with an old employer has gone, long service leave is unusual in global terms – you won't find many other counties that have an equivalent – but unusual today in that it provides for certain types of workers and not others.

"There is debate about if we're going to have it should we make it more portable."

Mr Victory said there was still more work to do to improve the conditions for parents at work.

He said there were still problems with parents not being paid parental leave, and getting superannuation benefits over the time they are not at work.