Changes in parental leave leave women behind, economists say

Ms Stark wants Australia’s parental leave extended beyond 20 weeks and gender equality better promoted.

“We should aim for a more Scandinavian model where a part is allocated for the partner – except for single parents – to encourage more equal use of leave between parents,” she said.

Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute, said the new policy went in the opposite direction to most countries around the world.

“My concern is that, under the guise of flexibility, we will actually go backwards in terms of progress in trying to divide care a little bit more equally between men and women,” she said.

International experience shows that use-it-or-lose-it schemes, which quarantine a significant portion of fathers’ leave on offer, are the best way to significantly boost uptake.

Jane Hume, women’s economic security minister, said the proposed changes reflect individual differences in each family situation.

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“Giving families more choice and flexibility in managing work and care will increase women’s employment rates and increase their economic security,” she said.

dr. Jackson said choice sounded good, but “if you don’t understand the policy of how those choices are made, you run the risk of unintentionally — or possibly intentionally — locking up women in their role as society’s unpaid health care workers.”

Julie McKay, PwC’s chief diversity, inclusion and wellbeing officer, who is currently on parental leave herself, said that while it was better for women if they were given an extra two weeks of leave under the changes, “it doesn’t shift that social piece of how we play the role of actually make men change”.

The notable example of encouraging fathers to take paternity leave is Quebec, Canada, where the proportion of new fathers taking leave rose to 80 percent after introducing five weeks specifically for them. Conversely, when the father’s portion of parental leave was abolished in Denmark, the amount of time mothers spent on leave increased, while partner use stagnated.

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But the government points to evidence in Australia that when private companies offer paid leave to both parents, fathers use it too.

The latest data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that 60 percent of large companies offer paid parental leave. Men make up 12 percent of those taking primary care leave.

In 2020-21, there were 168,167 women on taxpayer-funded parental leave. In the same year, 89,784 people took advantage of the father and partner pay leave scheme – just over half the number of mothers on leave.

RMIT economics lecturer Leonora Risse said it is important that leave is offered, but there is no guarantee that it will be taken if there are no proper incentives.

“Many men struggle with the decision to take parental leave, even if it is offered, because they worry about how they might be perceived professionally,” she said.

Ms. Stark says she and her husband were both incredibly lucky to have a workplace that accepted their need to take time off work.

“If [Frederick] If I was in a situation where many of my female friends and their partners are, which it is not socially acceptable within the culture of the office to take leave, they would not. You hear that a lot in law firms or finance,” she said.

Labor has yet to announce its paid parental leave policy, although shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said on Wednesday the party was in talks to improve it.

Opposition Social Services spokeswoman Linda Burney described the government changes as “tinkering with the edges of a plan they’ve tried to break five times”.

Jacqueline Maley breaks through the hubbub of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up here for our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter.

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