Parental leave – some good developments

4102195050_637b3fba84_oI’ve written a few times about how progressing women in the workplace also involves more change than just the workplace. Annabel Crabb puts it best:

In focusing so hard on encouraging women to lean in, we’ve neglected to convince men of their entitlement to lean out once in a while.

In my post about progressing women in leadership, I made a similar point:

… a sustainable increase in the proportion of women in leadership roles in public society as a whole will only happen with a sustainable increase in the proportion of men taking leadership roles in the home.

Well some recent moves on the parental leave front have made that a little bit more likely. At NAB:

All NAB employees can now take paid primary carer leave anytime within the first 12 months of a child’s life. Previously, it was only available to the primary carer for 12 weeks on the birth or adoption of a child, or 24 weeks at half-pay.

The change is subtle, but important. While in theory, paid parental leave at NAB was available to men or women, it was only available to the primary carer straight after the birth of the child. That makes it pretty unlikely that a father is going to take it.

Now, however, a mother can take the initial leave, and a father can take leave, up to 12 weeks of it paid, later on in the first year of a child’s life, as long as they are the primary carer. For NAB fathers, that means that there is a benefit that they can only get by deciding to be a primary carer during the first year of their child’s life.

It’s likely to provide some similar incentives to the “use-it-or-lose-it” approach to (government paid) parental leave in Sweden:

Swedish parents now receive a total of 480 days of leave per child, 390 days of which is paid at 80 per cent of salary (up to a maximum of $162 a day).

Two months of this is reserved for the man, and the rest can be shared between the parents however they prefer. As of 2012, Swedish men took 24 per cent of the leave, meaning each on average stays home and looks after each baby or toddler for a little over three months.

In Sweden, the anecdotal evidence has been that that initial practice of being a primary carer has long term benefits in the sharing of parental responsibilities within families. The culture there has changed longer term, so that it is no longer just seen as a female job to look after the children:

Swedes claim that those three months of being the main stay-at-home carer give men a stronger bond with their child, make them more likely to do their share of housework, and mean they have a better understanding of what childcare involves.

I hope NAB’s example spreads; even if we are unlikely to have a Swedish approach to government provided leave, a gradual spread through the private sector is likely to lead to some cultural change.

Annabel Crabb again:

the power of Australia’s strong male-breadwinner culture is almost elemental. It’s not impossible, illegal or even particularly impractical for a woman to be the main breadwinner in a family, or for a father to stay at home with his children. It’s just that the gravitational pull of the orthodox arrangement is very, very strong.

The more time fathers spend with their children, particularly as the primary carer, the more it will be seen as a normal event. And the easier it will be for the next father who wants to spend time with his kids.

  2 comments for “Parental leave – some good developments

  1. Russell Miles
    March 22, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    I often given sociology students paid parental leave as an example of public policy, because it s fascinating. The NAB example is instructive. Very large organisations can effectively use such policies to recruit and retain the most talented staff. They can also spread the costs over the larger work force. However, what happens in medium to smaller firms is more instructive. How do they avoid the cost of key staff being unavailable and having to spend money on shorter term replacement. They main effect is to discriminate in hiring women, so the opposite effect of what was intended. The solution considered by the current government was to spread part of the cost (replacement wage; although not training) over industries by having a levy on all businesses (1.5% surcharge on company taxes). We’ll skip the two clever by half bit where the gov’t introduced this tax only on large business (who could and did pay as the NAB example) and the same time cut business taxes by 1.5%. And exempt smaller businesses (introducing a two tired and more complex and costly tax system) The payments were then paid via the Centrelink system. This made what was an employer obligation payment like annual leave, look like welfare payment. Clever by half problem two was the ppl payments were to be made based on existing wages, but welfare payments are made at a low flat rate. At the same time, the Federal Government actually proposed to end all payments to any mother under 25, and six month long rolling suspensions for mother up to 30. So at the same tome some mother’s would receive up to $150K for six months from public revenue with no means test, others in the most dire circumstance would receive nothing at all. This would have been a hard political sell in the best of times, and it became impossible in the current political climate. Plan B seems to be means tested child ce system. But ppl is off the political agenda for a long time. Why does it matter. Well, you only have to look at the fertility rate of the Japanese, Spanish and Russians.They have reached a stage where they can’t come back (each succeeding cohort has fewer children) Their culture will disappear within a few generations. Does that matter – cultures change. This is the question I leave children. Oh, the Swedish example is misleading. While they have PPL as described; like Australia they are fast casulising their workforce. So they have a two tiered workforce entitlements – really, three if you consider the secondary labour market. Their busineses are doing this to avoid the cost of hiring people who have entitlements for PPL. You only need look at the growing proportion of the NAB’s workforce that are not permanent employees. This is the problem with sociology is there trends within trends, and you have to keep your eye on many balls in the air. And for statisticians it makes for very complex matrix’s. There was a reason Milton Friedman received the Nobel Price. He was one of the very few people who could see describe all the balls. You have to admire his work, even if you disagree with conclusions.

  2. Andrew Wakeling
    April 5, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Yes, a very good development. Anything that gives parents more choice as to how to organise their childcare has to be good. Good for parents, good for children and therefore good for the community. Enabling more women to occupy senior management roles might improve corporate profits. But far more importantly, enabling families to cope better with child rearing and associated economic stresses should make for happier parents, lower rates of family breakdown and better balanced children. As Hilary Clinton famously said : “It takes a village …”. Well done NAB.

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