Monday 20 May 2019

Sinead Ryan: 'Baby steps are not enough on parental leave'

 

A Swedish study found that for every month a father took leave to care for children, his partner’s long-term earnings rose by 6.7pc as she returned to work earlier. Stock photo
A Swedish study found that for every month a father took leave to care for children, his partner’s long-term earnings rose by 6.7pc as she returned to work earlier. Stock photo
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

There's been a bit of grief following the revelation that just 38pc of new fathers are taking their paternity leave entitlement.

Although Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty professed herself "delighted" at the take-up after the scheme was introduced, it means that in reality almost two-thirds of families are not availing of it. This compares badly with places like Iceland, where 91pc do, Quebec (86pc) and France (80pc).

The EU is set to introduce a compulsory 10-day leave period for all new fathers, so our two weeks already compares favourably, especially given the six EU countries (including Germany) which don't offer leave at all.

What is the intransigence among Irish dads? These days they're all hands-on, I'd say upwards of 90pc of them attend their child's birth, they're a dab hand with the nappies and night feeds and, most importantly, want to be far more involved than their own fathers were. The UK, which has an utterly dismal record (just 2pc of dads take paternity leave), cites a lack of information about what's available and a huge stigma about not being taken seriously by their employer if they hop off on 'holiday' to mind their kids.

Women, of course, have faced this for decades. Even though it is now technically unlawful for employers to say anything but "brilliant" when you announce you're pregnant, there's buckets of anecdotal evidence, especially in smaller companies, showing bosses are not only dismayed at the thought of a female employee disappearing for the best part of a year, but are actively managing their recruitment methods to avoid taking them on in the first place if they are of child-bearing possibilities.

I was the victim of it myself many moons ago, with it being made clear in no uncertain terms that anything more than 16 weeks off would be considered an indulgence.

Britain's 'Share the Joy' campaign to encourage dads' leave had a glaring flaw, which opponents point to in its failure. It requires mothers to give up part of their maternity leave to be shared with dad. In other words, his rights to care for his children are at his partner's behest, rather than statutory.

Yet a Swedish study found that for every month a father took leave to care for children, his partner's long-term earnings rose by 6.7pc as she returned to work earlier.

We need junior taxpayers. The country's ageing population means that while there are five taxpayers supporting every pensioner in 2019, this reduces dramatically to just 2:1 by 2050 (just when today's young parents are retiring).

That, of course, is unsustainable, as countries like Italy and France have already discovered. The French responded by paying families to have a third child, the Nordics by extending paid parental leave for a year and supplementing child care.

We are taking baby steps, excuse the pun, but they are too few and too slow. We are learning to crawl while other countries are at the top of the climbing frame.

When will the time come, do you think, that women bearing children are seen as the asset they are, underpinning the future economy rather than being viewed as a drain upon it?

When will it be OK for every dad to automatically involve themselves in that, and every employer to be far-sighted enough to make the financial link between its future pension responsibilities and today's short-term support?

We're not the best by a long shot. Admittedly, we're not the worst either.

One newspaper ran a story headlined, "Top investment banker actually took all his paternity leave for once".

It wasn't a parody; it was the 'Wall Street Journal'. And it was in 2016.

Irish Independent

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