Paid parental leave for who?


Included in the 2021 budget was a boost to all main benefits, including an increase to paid-parental leave. From 1 July 2021, eligible parents will be entitled to a maximum of $621.76 a week (before tax), an increase of 2.5% on the prior rate of $606.46. 

While the monetary increase is no doubt welcomed, a recently released UNICEF report suggests that New Zealand's child-care policies remain inferior among OECD countries. The report ranks New Zealand in the bottom third of "rich countries" after accounting for the duration of paid leave available, access, quality and affordability of childcare.

Despite the report being based on 2018 data, hence not accounting for subsequent increases in paid parental leave available in New Zealand (18 weeks to the now 26), New Zealand is still significantly off the pace, with the average length of paid leave across OECD countries nearing 55 weeks.

The report also hints that internationally there are inequalities in maternity and paternity leave, suggesting that whilst leave typically provided to fathers is significantly shorter, it is also often paid at a higher rate. At a time where work environments are ever-changing, alongside the diversifying role of parents, a global push for parental policies that adequately reflect the changing environment are increasing.

The introduction of France's revived paternity leave policy came into effect on 1 July. It provides 28 days paid leave to fathers, or second parents, of both biological and adopted children. The initiative comprises 3 days of birth leave funded by the employer and an additional 25 days paid by the state, 7 of which are mandatory. Employers that fail to acknowledge the 7 mandatory days are liable for fines of up to €7,500. Global firm Cyient also recently announced their gender-neutral parental leave policy. The policy provides parents of any gender, up to 12 weeks paid time off at their full pay. The policy applies equally to birth and adoptive parents.

Closer to home, 2degrees recently committed to topping up government contributions up to 100% of an employee's base salary for the 26-week paid period.

Despite many additional examples of more extensive parental leave policies being put in place, it is unclear how effective the new initiatives will be, particularly amongst new fathers.

Japan currently offers one of the lengthiest paternity leave policies, with fathers entitled to up to one year of leave following the birth of a child. Yet, in 2019 only 7.48% of men working in the private sector took paternity leave compared to 83% of women; and in some ways it's not hard to see why. Historically, parental leave initiatives have been solely based on women being the primary caregiver, with parental leave for men an afterthought.

Maternity leave for the private sector wasn't legislated in New Zealand until 1980 and it wasn't until 7 years later that the Act was extended to include men, giving them exclusive use of two weeks of unpaid leave. In contrast to the global shift towards gender neutrality, men in New Zealand technically still have no entitlement to paid parental leave in their own right, although they may be entitled should the mother transfer hers.

It is evident that countries and corporations alike are seeking to advance parental leave policies, however, the uptake rates are likely to remain influenced by societal and corporate expectations surrounding care giving. Nevertheless, the introduction and revision of policies by numerous global players has undoubtedly started a broader conversation which seeks to challenge entrenched traditional gender roles.

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