Paid parental leave for who?

Included in this year’s Budget was a boost to all main benefits, including an increase to paid-parental leave. From 1 July 2021, eligible parents are entitled to a maximum of $621.76 a week (before tax), an increase of 2.5 percent 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 while 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, there’s an increasing global push for parental policies that adequately reflect the changing environment. 
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 three days of birth leave funded by the employer and an additional 25 days paid by the state, seven of which are mandatory. Employers that fail to acknowledge the seven mandatory days are liable for fines of up to €7,500.
Global firm Cyient also recently announced its 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 percent 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 percent of men working in the private sector took paternity leave compared to 83 percent 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 pantal leave for men an afterthought.
Maternity leave for the private sector wasn’t legislated in New Zealand until 1980, and it wasn’t until seven 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, 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 caregiving. Nevertheless, the introduction and revision of policies by numerous global players has undoubtedly started a broader conversation that seeks to challenge entrenched traditional gender roles.
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