A different approach needed for parental leave

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Opinion – Danielle Galvin

Just recently, ING announced it would become the first bank in Australia to give employers access to 14 weeks paid parental leave.

It followed research the bank commissioned which showed 76 per cent of Australians believe both parents should have access to the same amount of leave after welcoming a child (see story on the right).

Last year, health insurance fund Medibank Private introduced a similar policy, giving employees (mums or dads) two years to use their 14 weeks leave after the arrival of their baby.

Those of us with young families would call these sorts of policies groundbreaking.

But in my view, they are also well overdue.

The federal government provides up to 18 weeks of parental leave to the primary carer, often women, at the minimum wage.

Fathers or partners are also entitled to Dad and Partner Pay which is two weeks of funded leave at the national minimum wage rate.

Eighteen weeks may sound generous, but comparing it to other countries it’s actually quite the opposite.

The fact that most dads will only have the option to take two weeks off when their child is born is pretty disappointing, when you look at the fact that in countries like Iceland parents can share up to nine months off. Three months for the mother, three for the father, and three to be split between the two.

Employers like ING and Medibank Private introducing these sorts of policies gives me hope that eventually other big businesses and corporate workplaces will follow suit.

It’s fair enough that a lot of Australian businesses, like small workplaces or businesses, genuinely would not have the option to accommodate such a policy.

But I believe a lot more could be done.

I also hope that expectant fathers will increasingly ask for and negotiate these sorts of policies and workplace entitlements.

In my own experience, I know of dads who have taken a pay cut to work only four days a week when their child is born to make sure they get the work life balance right.

It’s obvious there are numerous benefits to keeping dad at home too – it helps establish that bond between father and child.

But it also acknowledges that we have a changing workplace these days.

Most women I know who have had babies have returned to work in some capacity, many of them full-time, many before that one-year mark.

Imagine how incredible it would be to share the load, for both mum and dad to have time at home with their baby as a family unit, and then separately as either one returns to work.

It might reduce the burden of childcare expenses, and it might help reduce the pressure to rush back to work.

It’s really time that we start seeing things differently.