Gillard flags workplace reform for working parents

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has flagged workplace relations changes to extend the rights of parents returning from maternity leave.

Speaking before leaving New Zealand this morning, Ms Gillard said there will be announcements this week stemming from the review of the Fair Work Act.

Ms Gillard said one of the key aspects will be helping new parents return to flexible work environments.

"They will be able to request flexible and part-time work and their employer will have to respond to that request," she said.

"We already have, as part of our 10 national employment standards, a right to request.

"This is an extension to that right that Labor introduced." Ms Gillard conceded the law will not force employers to agree, but she says formalising the right to ask does make a difference.

"Employers actually start thinking 'is this possible?'" she said.

Ms Gillard is also proposing increased measures to protect parents from unexpected roster changes which make the juggle between work and family life difficult.

"People make all sort of arrangements for work knowing what their roster is, building the child care around it," she said.

"When rosters change, that can be very difficult.

"So during the course of the week we'll be talking about some protections from roster changes, some abilities to be consulted when rosters change." Election issue Ms Gillard did not miss the opportunity to criticise the Howard government's WorkChoices arrangements.

She said industrial relations will be a recurring theme this week with more announcements when Parliament resumes.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop says the Coalition understands the issues facing working parents.

"That's why Tony Abbott's going to introduce this paid parental leave scheme that reflects the challenges facing working women," she told Sky News.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz says the Coalition has always championed the need for flexibility.

"Labor used to argue that flexibility is code for reduced conditions," he said.

"Now we have Labor in a desperate bid to make up ground in the opinion polls, trying to present themselves as the champions of flexibility." The Greens say the Federal Government does not go far enough with its proposals.

Adam Bandt says the Greens want laws strengthened so the industrial umpire can be brought in if a request for flexibility is refused.

"The Greens are not interested in helping Labor use working parents and carers as a re-election prop," he said.

"If the Government was serious about giving people better work-life balance, they'd get behind the Greens bill to give parents and carers an enforceable right to flexible working arrangements." The Prime Minister is now returning to Australia from New Zealand, where she held annual leaders talks with her counterpart John Key.

During the talks, the two leaders announced a deal which will see New Zealand take 150 refugees from Australia each year.

They also announced plans to empower consumer watchdogs to crack down on exorbitant mobile phone and data roaming charges.

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