The Australian Catholic University has become the first organisation in the country to guarantee 12 months paid maternity leave to its general staff.
Under the agreement, administrative and other non-academic staff at the university will be paid their full salary for the first 12 weeks of maternity leave and 60 per cent for the following 40 weeks. Australian law allows 52 weeks unpaid maternity leave - any further entitlements have to be negotiated with employers.
The agreement with the National Tertiary Education Union follows 18 months of negotiations. It includes an extension of child-rearing and paternity leave, job-sharing arrangements and other family-friendly provisions.
Carolyn Allport, the union's president, said the agreement showed the way for other employers to follow suit. "For these provisions to work, the ACU and other universities need to address the importance of back-filling the vacated positions to keep workloads reasonable," she said.
Francesca Higgins, a pregnant librarian at the Catholic University, will be the first to benefit. "It's fantastic," Ms Higgins said. "After the baby is born I won't have to use up my leave to extend my time at home with the baby."
Staff were puzzled by their university's unexpected generosity: the union hadn't proposed an increase; ACU offered one.
The reason could be simple. On average, only six ACU staff take maternity leave each year, at a total cost to ACU of 0.4 per cent of the payroll.