In 2015 the UK changed its parental leave rules, allowing mums and dads to split both paid and unpaid leave between them, at the same time or consecutively. In a report this month, the Institute for Public Policy Research reported that reducing the gender pay gap ‘requires an equalisation of the lifetime hours that men and women work, through both better return-to-work policies, and more men taking time out of the labour market and working flexibly, to distribute caring responsibilities more evenly.’
Why Men Need to Take Parental Leave
Even when men are entitled to paid parental leave, they often don’t take it. A fact, the report notes, which contributes to the ‘motherhood penalty’ and perpetuates the problem of women being paid less than men.
‘Changing men’s working behaviour is a crucial component of equalising pay. Employers could offer paid paternity leave on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, make jobs flexible by default and encourage men to job-share,” the report suggests.
New Zealand Behind on Parental Leave
New Zealand’s paid parental leave is currently one of the lowest allowances in the OECD, with both the amount and time meagre in comparison to European countries. Paid primary-carer leave, currently 18 weeks, will increase to 22 weeks effective 1 July 2018, with an increase to 26 weeks from July 1, 2020. The amount is just $527.72 per week, ‘usually a significant drop in income for most,’ says the employment law firm Buckett Law. This contrasts to the UK, which provides 39 weeks’ leave, with the first six weeks at 90% pay, followed by 33 weeks at £145.18 (around $280).
Not only is our leave shorter and less well paid, but sharing parental leave between both parents is not as simple or as encouraged in New Zealand as many other countries, which goes some way to explaining why so few men take it.
Encouraging Dads to Take Parental Leave
As you might expect, the Scandinavian countries lead the way in empowering men (and women) to take time off work to spend with their newborns. Swedish parents get 12 months’ shared leave, with two months minimum for both the mother and the father. Norway offers fathers 46 weeks of paid leave at 100% salary.
By contrast, a new mum’s spouse in New Zealand is entitled to one to two weeks’ leave – unpaid, which fewer than 10% of kiwi fathers currently take up.
No Paid Shared Leave in New Zealand
Instead of shared parental leave, New Zealand gives paid leave to the ‘primary carer’. This could be the birth mother, or one adoptive parent, mātua whāngai, grandparent or other whānau, and so on.
Payments can be ‘transferred’ to the spouse, but the process is not set up, by default, to encourage shared leave. Instead, the primary eligibility for paid parental leave lies with the birth mum.
If you and your partner want to share the paid leave, it is useful to know that this is available. You just need to make an extra effort to research and implement it.
Likewise, unpaid extended leave is available to either parent and can be shared between the two (though not at the same time). Unpaid leave brings the total leave allowed up to 52 weeks. i.e. With 18 weeks’ paid leave, you can take 34 weeks’ unpaid leave. When the paid primary carer leave is increased to 22 weeks, you will be able to take 30 weeks’ unpaid leave.
Know your Options
New Zealand still has a way to go to encourage men to invest as much as women in childcare, thereby reducing the professional penalty mothers face, both in recruitment and career advancement. But, for now, it is useful to know your legal options when it comes to sharing leave between two partners.
Source: The full report can be read on the IPRR website.