Extend the Government's Paid Parental Leave to pregnant women during the COVID-19 crisis

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Despite pregnant women being an incredibly vulnerable group in society, they have been overlooked in the Government's recent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government's current Paid Parental Leave is an 18 week payment for primary carers (usually the mother) which is payable upon the birth of their child.

There are strict conditions for this payment including a work and income test, whereby the mother must earn under $150,000 and also have undertaken enough work in the 13 months prior to the child's birth.

If a mother is forced to leave her paid employment early for any reason (including medical reasons) this 18 week payment cannot be extended nor can it be paid any earlier than from the date of the child's birth.

According to the Australian government's healthdirect website, people with weakened immune systems are at most serious risk of infection and complications from COVID-19.

Due to physiological changes in pregnancy, such as reduced lung function and increased oxygen consumption, along with changes in the immune system, pregnant women may be more susceptible to contracting respiratory infections and developing serious complications such as pneumonia and respiratory distress.

If a pregnant woman's body is in respiratory distress there may be a chance of pre-term delivery and by consequence, decreased neo-natal outcomes. 

According to RANZCOG (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists), some babies born to women in China were born prematurely, however it is currently unclear whether it was the virus itself which caused pre-term delivery or whether it was determined to deliver the baby early as a result of the woman being unwell.

Dr Wendy Burton, GP and Chair of the RACGP Antenatal/Postnatal Care Specific Interests network has stated that insufficient data remains a challenge and also recommends that pregnant women should be re-allocated to lower risk duties, or have the opportunity to work from home or take a leave of absence.

For many pregnant workers, being allocated to other duties, working from home or taking a leave of absence during this pandemic is not possible due to children being home from school or other care or it may not be financially possible to take a leave of absence from paid employment due to the Government's gap in providing support to pregnant womean.

" The U.K. government announced on Monday that pregnant women were at an increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19). Speaking at a press conference, Public Health England chief medical officer Chris Whitty said people in the “high risk” category should stay at home for 12 weeks. (That includes people over 70, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.) Whitty described the advice to pregnant women as “a precautionary measure” because “we are early in our understanding of this virus and we want to be sure.”

According to Dr. Amir Khan, a general practitioner in England’s northern city of Bradford and a senior lecturer at both Leeds and Bradford University, “anyone who is immunocompromised, such as pregnant women, are at an increased risk of developing things like pneumonia and then going into respiratory distress. That’s the real risk.”   " https://time.com/5806273/coronavirus-pregnancy/

As there is limited data there is a real risk that by leaving pregnant women no other option other than to continue working during this pandemic, the Government is putting the health of women, along with the health of their child in danger. If a woman were to suffer sever respiratory distress and was forced to deliver her child prematurely there would be significant risk to the health of that child and also to the mother.

Currently under the government's COVID-19 response, a pregnant woman may be eligible for a Jobseeker payment if they are single or if their partner does not earn more than $48,000 a year. $48,000 is an incredibly low threshold to adequately support two people and an unborn child, and as such many women may feel they have no choice but to continue working as long as possible, despite the risk in continuing to attend their workplace.

We implore the government to look after the future children of Australia and give them the best possible opportunity at a healthy life, by giving their mother an option to look after her maternal health and the health of her child during this unprecedented health crisis.