Dowie scores twin successes
Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie has picked up a significant parliamentary chairmanship just hours after the Government accepted a change she proposed to new parental leave law.
The second-term MP was yesterday elected unopposed to chair the education and workforce select committee.
This represents a nod from the Government as well as her Opposition colleagues for a position that carries an expectation of procedural fairness.
And it came after a late-night success in the House after she had identified an inconsistency in the bill, passed under urgency, to extend parental leave.
The bill had neglected to match the increase in parental leave days with a proportional boost to ‘‘keeping-in-touch’’ days.
These are the number of hours parents on parental leave can return to work without forfeiting their entitlement.
Her proposed through the House.
Dowie said this had been a case of extending the olive branch to the Government.
‘‘Extending the number of keeping-intouch days is great for parents and means they can maintain the balance between time off to care for baby and the connection with their workplace, without worrying about losing their leave entitlements,’’ she said.
A parent will not be treated as having returned to work if they perform 52 (up from 40) hours or fewer of paid work during their leave.
This kicks in when the leave increases from 18 to 22 weeks next July.
It will extend to 64 hours when the leave increases again, to 26 weeks, in July 2020.
The keeping-in-touch hours, agreed between the employee and employer, were not only useful for short, specific handover tasks and training sessions to keep skills up to date, she said.
It was also important for the new parents not to find themselves disconnected from peer camaraderie at work. correction sailed
‘‘This amendment is a straightforward tidy-up which the Government should have done through a Cabinet committee before rushing the bill through Parliament,’’ she said.
‘‘I’m glad that in this case the Government has seen sense and adopted my change to the bill, although it is disappointing and surprising that they have not taken up National’s other proposed change, which would have allowed both parents to take paid parental leave at the same time.’’
She felt honoured to be accepted as a select committee chairman.
In February, under the National administration, she had been promoted to chair the justice and electorate com- mittee. She hoped her new position reflected a view that she had performed that role well.
‘‘I did have a very good working relationship with Labour, Greens and NZ First [MPs] and always gave them a fair hearing.’’
The committee’s inbox already contains contentious material in planned replacement of NCEA and the Government’s free tertiary education plans. Dowie said there was confusion around both.
‘‘I think [the subject of] education can be very adversarial, but also there are opportunities to be collaborative and that’s the way I will look at it, if we can,’’ she said.
Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie