Need for partner-specific paid parental leave

Young mother and father with newborn Photo: 123RF

More than 34,000 parents took parental leave last year, but of that number only 447 - just a touch over one percent - were fathers.

Morgan Avery took time off when his son was born in 2014, and said he and his wife had already decided at that point that she would take the then-14-week paid period.

That left the couple in a conundrum - Morgan wanted the chance to bond with his son, but that would've stretched their finances close to breaking point.

Morgan asked around at his workplace, the University of Auckland - and got very, very lucky.

"It turned out that the university ... did nine weeks' paid leave for fathers. And so the decision at that point became really easy."

Not everyone is so fortunate, however.

By law, either parent can take up to 18 weeks' paid leave to look after their baby provided they've been working for the same employer for at least six months.

The new Labour-led government is looking to have paid leave extended to 22 weeks next year, and 26 weeks by 2022, but has shot down amendments suggested by National which would allow both parents to take paid leave at the same time.

While there is specific leave for partners to take, it's only one week and it's unpaid. For the parent taking the bulk of leave, payments are also capped at $540 a week.

Rebecca Matthews, from the 26 For Babies lobby group, said the pay highlighted that other societal factors were at play.

"The gender pay gap: women are earning less, and so families are keeping the higher earner at work."

The extended leave period was exciting, she said, but once that was in place New Zealand should be looking at rethinking its model perhaps along the lines of a model in Sweden where couples are given 480 days' leave - but 60 days of that must be taken by the father, or it's forfeited.

"So what we'd really like to see is allocated, dedicated leave for fathers and partners. When you have something like 26 weeks, two to four weeks for the father or partner to take off would be fantastic."

Morgan agreed that partners often ended up missing out on some of the most important days in a newborn's life.

"Going from one week unpaid, anything is an improvement. I don't think parents should feel stressed for choices they don't really get to make.

He says the current limits on partners' leave hugely restricted most families' options.

"We're comfortable, Auckland technology workers, and money felt like it could be tight even for us. For many people, there is no option."


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