General Motors’ Australian operation Holden is claiming a new Australian automotive industry benchmark by more than doubling female employees paid maternity leave from six to 14 weeks.

The paid maternity leave is available to any female employee with at least two years’ service. It was introduced on 23 September and also applies to women already on their paid portion of maternity leave.

The Age newspaper said Holden employs 725 female employees, 9% of its Australia-wide workforce.

In a statement, Holden said it is keen to retain the 35 per cent of women who previously didn’t return to work.

“Holden’s people are our greatest asset – and our investment in them is significant. Therefore it makes good business sense to retain their skills,” human resources executive director Andrea Grant said.

The Holden announcement followed Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner Pru Goward’s recommendation of 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave in a 2002 interim paper sent to the federal government.

Unions in an industry seriously affected by recent strike action in the component supply sector were apparently quick to seize on Holden’s announcement.

Australian Manufacturers Workers’ Union spokesman Garry Hingle told The Age that 14 weeks’ leave was “indeed a benchmark but there are still more steps to go”.

“Next time we sit down with a new company we will let them know what Holden is offering and ask that they match or better it,” Hingle said, according to The Age.