Celebrating 26 Weeks of Paid Parental Leave

Our success in gaining 26 weeks paid parental leave is a great example of what we can achieve when the political and industrial wings of the labour movement work together, writes former Labour MP and PSA organiser Sue Moroney.

As a unionist, I’m proud to have been the MP leading the charge to increase paid parental leave beyond the 14 weeks it had stalled at when National took office in 2008.

It has been an amazing campaign, from the time the Labour Party caucus agreed this was the right thing to do at the height of the global economic crisis right through until the new Labour / NZ First / Green Party Government passed it into law as its first act this month.

Working together, not only have we achieved massive public support for working families on this issue but we also managed to convince a reluctant National Government to increase PPL by four weeks, and the same party is now voting for the full 26-week proposal.

So, let’s pause to celebrate that success and see what we can learn from it.

Lesson 1: Having a political voice for the labour movement in Parliament makes a big difference

It is clear that only a Labour-led Government had the will to deliver 26 weeks paid parental leave. It didn’t matter how strong the supporting evidence was, how many New Zealanders supported it or even how many MPs voted for it – National did everything they could to stop it happening.

And they did that not once, but twice.

Despite a majority of Parliament voting for it, National stopped it initially by “filibustering” the debate on the Bill so a final vote couldn’t happen before the 2014 election and then by vetoing it – a tool so extreme, it had never been used on an entire Bill at third reading before.

So, if we want the needs of working people to be prioritised we must organise but we also need political parties with the will to make it happen. No amount of rationale will do that when it comes to the distribution of New Zealand’s resources.

Lesson 2: Build coalitions and play to each other’s strengths

Plunket, Barnados, the Breastfeeding Authority and even Family First were among the organisations that joined with many unions to form the 26ForBabies Coalition, which was coordinated by Rebecca Matthews (formerly of FinSec) and the PSA’s own Fleur Fitzsimons. They held engaging events that got great media attention. Breastfeeding babies were present in the Select Committee room where submissions were heard on the Bill, and I have fond memories of prams lining the corridors of power while babies had their nappies changed in my office.

It built valuable relationships between the union movement and other community groups, which will help us build support for more change to support working families.

Lesson 3: Making a change that improves peoples' lives matters – let’s do more of it!

Working together, we have improved the lives of around 30,000 children every year. We’ve also improved the lives of their parents.

We’ll all get to live in a society where children have benefitted from the bonding and attachment that happens in those precious early months and many more will have gained the health benefits from being breastfed to 26 weeks.

Generational change – not easy, but well worth it!