Businesses are providing increasingly generous leave, going above some of the rich world’s stingiest childcare laws, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.
Leading the change on parental leave in New Zealand.
Dean Wharewera’s employer extended its offering of paid parental leave to 12 weeks last year, regardless of gender or parenting role. He told Stuff that he jumped at the opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad for three months. His partner was keen on getting back to work and he wanted to spend time with his kids. Dads taking parental leave in Aotearoa remains a rarity. As Wharewera explains, he felt guilty taking 12 weeks off, despite giving his manager six months to prepare. The stereotypes are starting to change and some big companies are coming forward with gender-neutral, and more generous, parental leave policies.
Aotearoa has some of the world’s most meagre childcare policies.
New Zealand’s parental leave policies have improved over the past two decades, but they remain some of the least generous among rich countries. The Economist put out a striking graphic last year that ranks Aotearoa in 33rd place out of 41 OECD countries for childcare. The finding can be confounding to some New Zealanders, especially those who don’t have infants. It’s based on a Unicef study released last year that looked across national childcare policies. Specifically on parental leave, the UN agency ranked Aotearoa the third worst, beating only Switzerland and the US. Infamously, the US has no paid parental leave policies.
Didn’t the government fix this?
Labour increased New Zealand’s paid parental leave to 26 weeks in 2020. That’s captured in the data above. However, there’s a payment cap of $621 per week (which is significantly less than a full time worker on minimum wage). The OECD average is 51 weeks of full pay. Romania offers the most generous scheme at 92 weeks, while Aotearoa’s offering is calculated by Unicef to be around nine weeks of full pay for the average worker. Stuff reports that while New Zealand has some of the best quality childcare in the world, it’s also some of the least affordable. Despite 20 hours of free weekly ECE for children aged three to five, childcare consumes up to 37% of the average wage of a couple, with children under three. Unicef has called on the government to extend free ECE to one-year-olds and to introduce national targets to increase the affordability and accessibility of childcare.
The future direction of parental leave in New Zealand.
At a time when many families are struggling, expensive childcare costs have received almost no attention in the Beehive. Without direction from the government, telecommunications company 2degrees increased its parental leave payments to 100% of an employee’s salary last year. The company said the more generous policy was a way to attract and retain talent in a competitive labour market. The government’s scheme has been recently going in the other direction. The NZ Herald reported on Inland Revenue fighting two new mothers to deny leave payments for their second children. The women hadn’t waited long enough between births, the IRD argued. The Employment Relations Authority ruled on appeal that IRD was right and both women shouldn’t have access to parental leave.