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Why Aussie men need 20 weeks' paid leave

·4-min read
Owain Emslie with his two daughters in a rainforest, on a moor.
Owain Emslie (Images: Supplied)

Giving Australia's fathers up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave will promote greater life satisfaction among dads, and boost the Australian economy by $900 million to boot, according to a new paper by the Grattan Institute.

Australia currently offers mothers 18 weeks of paid parental leave paid at the minimum wage, while dads and partners can access two weeks paid at the same rate.

However, the unequal distribution of paid parental leave is hurting women’s position in the workforce and potentially limiting fathers’ relationships with their children, the thinktank noted in a new paper calling for a more equitable distribution of parental leave. 

“Women invariably are the ones that drop their hours of paid work to do more caring, and we see this really big gendered split of work in Australia compared to other countries,” Grattan Institute senior associate Owain Emslie told Yahoo Finance.

“That feeds into an estimated $2 million lifetime earnings gap between men that have children and women that have children.”

Instead, in the paper authored by Emslie and the Grattan Institute CEO Danielle Wood, the thinktank argues that Australia’s paid parental leave scheme should be increased and made more equal for mum and dad.

26 weeks leave could be the solution

Owain Emslie and his two daughters in a boat in Melbourne.
(Images: Supplied)

It proposes that each parent have six weeks of leave reserved for them, and another 12 weeks that they can split between the two of them.

Then, if these entitlements are used up, families can access another two weeks of leave, all paid at the minimum wage rate.

All up, that would equate to 26 weeks of paid parental leave, and one partner could claim up to 20 of those, although ideally it would be shared more equally.

“Under the scheme that we’re proposing… it’s made clear that this [six weeks] is for you to use, and it won’t take any extra applications or forms to access it. We think it will really make a big difference,” Emslie said.

Attaching the two bonus weeks for families that use up the first 18 weeks of combined leave also works as an extra incentive.

“Having the Government go out and say, ‘not only do you have the option of sharing the care, we encourage people to have a more equal share and we’re putting up this two weeks bonus leave as an active incentive.’”

Grattan calculates that if the scheme received significant uptake, it would cost an extra $600 million. But this would be more than offset by the $900 million in increased GDP thanks to mothers’ increased workforce participation.

What can other countries and studies reveal?

There are successful global precedents for more paid parental leave for partners: the Canadian city of Quebec recently trialled a scheme which saw it reserve five weeks of paid parental leave for fathers, set at 70-75 per cent of their ordinary earnings.

The percentage of fathers taking parental leave rose 250 per cent, until more than 80 per cent of Quebec fathers were using their leave.

Fifteen years ago in Spain, fathers were given just two days off to be with their newborn child. But in January 2021, it rolled out 16 weeks of paid paternity leave for dads, making it one of Europe’s most generous policies.

Fathers who take parental leave have a lower risk of early death, a study by the Swedish Umeå University found. They also find the stress of having a newborn easier to manage, according to another study published in the Psychiatry Journal.

And for children, a greater period of time with dad at home has been linked to greater cognitive ability, greater happiness, self esteem and healthier relationships, revealed a 2012 Canadian literature review.

Emslie, who has two daughters, took two weeks paid leave after the birth of his first daughter in 2010.

Owain Emslie and his two daughters pose as koalas and kangaroos behind a cut out picture frame.
(Images: Supplied)

When his second was born in 2013, he knew he wanted to spend more time with her in those early months, and ultimately took around three months off in long service leave.

“I was really fortunate to be able to spend that time with my four-year-old and my nine month old baby, and it had a big impact with my relationship with my daughters ever since, and I feel that it’s been a lot stronger and it was a real life-changing experience,” Emslie said.

“It would be great for more fathers to be able to get the opportunity to spend more time with their kids.”

Increasing paid paternity leave is simply an act of normalising it, and making it clear that the Government prioritises fathers’ caring duties, and mothers’ return to the paid workforce, he added.

“It sends a powerful message and normalises fathers taking big periods of leave, which then shifts social norms. It makes it easier for fathers to ask for a period of time away from their employer, and the more that it gets put out there, the easier that will be.”

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