Paid Parental Leave Helps Mums, Kids…And Dads

Rising pressure on individuals and families to meet their caring needs is the “human face” of a decline in workplace protections and bargaining power that has gathered pace since 2013 in Australia.

Wages in female-dominated industries (healthcare, social services and education) remain too low, and high childcare costs prohibit mothers’ workforce participation — limiting their work/care choices. Meanwhile, the gender pay gap incentivises fathers to increase their working hours to meet rising family costs. But in an era of stagnant wages growth, they effectively work more for less.

The need for fathers and male spouses to take on more caring and household labour is routinely discussed in the public domain. But how have Australia’s work/care policies worked to support a redistribution of caring and household labour to males and fathers?

Paid parental leave of 18 weeks is available for only the primary carer of a child, with a paltry 2 weeks available for dads and partners, paid only at the minimum wage ($740.80 p/wk). With cost of living pressures biting, consequently only 25–30% of Australian men access paid parental leave.

It’s clear that while women’s workforce participation has risen, Australia’s workplace and social policies have failed to “catch up” to the care demands of working families. And for policy leadership, we have a great deal to learn from the dual work/care model of Nordic nations.

The Centre for Future Work co-hosted a roundtable with the Nordic Policy Centre (a new initiative of the Australia Institute) today in Sydney on the social benefits of expanded paid parental leave. Dr Ásdís Aðalbjörg Arnalds from the University of Iceland — a leading academic on Iceland’s inclusive paid parental leave scheme — presented to policy experts, academics, practitioners and union representatives on some remarkable results of new research into Iceland’s paid parental leave scheme.

Participants at Nordic Policy Center and Centre for Future Work’s Paid Parental Leave Roundtable in Sydney: 26 August 2019

Since 2000, Iceland has doubled the proportion of fathers taking paternity leave from 40% to 80%. How did they achieve this? Since fathers comprised only a fraction of recipients of the previous universal leave of 6 months, Iceland introduced individual rights to parental leave for fathers — an additional 3 months of leave provided to families on a “use or lose it” basis, paid at 80% of their normal earnings. In 2006, the entitlement became gender neutral — available to “each parent”.

The results of the “father’s quota” are marked; Icelandic parents divided work and care more equally, and new norms were created in father care; fathers’ longer-term involvement roles in their children’s lives improved with a WHO study across 42 countries finding Icelandic children have the closest relationship with their fathers of all countries. Mothers return to the workforce sooner with less career and earnings disruptions.

Iceland shows paid parental leave for both parents at wage replacement levels is key to building more equal workplaces, families and communities, and a modern dual work/care model.

For more information on Dr Arndald’s research, see The Australia Institute’s media release here.

CFW, housed within the Australia Institute, conducts and publishes progressive economic research on work, employment, and labour markets. https://www.futurework

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