Submission on Paid Parental Leave

February 2002

National Committee
Father and Child Society


1. The New Zealand Father and Child Society was established in March 1998 and formally incorporated in November 1998. It was created to give local father groups/organisations support in setting up and running their initiatives, as well as giving better access to information and improve communication between these groups. It was also formed to represent fathers on a national level through government's ongoing consultation process with the community.

2. At the local level, the various organisations that form part of the society have programs that support fathers and children, often in collaboration with mainstream health service providers. In particular, the Christchurch Father&Child Trust has been working with families of newborns by running Fatherhood/Relationship modules for the antenatal classes of various local providers for the past three years. Since May 2001 the Trust has been working in a joint venture with Canterbury Plunket to supply support to the partners of women suffering from postnatal depression and to fathers struggling with the postnatal adjustment. Various papers on this work have been presented at Public Health, Mental Health and Social Policy conferences in New Zealand and internationally.

3. Also in Christchurch a support program for teenage fathers is being set up with the help of funding from the Holland-based international funder of Early Childhood Development projects, the Bernard-van-Leer Foundation. The project involves a survey of young fathers about their support needs as the first stage of the programme. The Bernard-van-Leer funding support acknowledges the international significance of the Trust's work in the area of fathers with babies.

4. As a further example of our work, the Wellington Father&Child Trust has now organized three annual Social Policy Forums bring together research, practice and policy on relevant topics. The first examined the changing roles of fathers in New Zealand society. The second considered how New Zealand can best meet its commitments under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 18. The third looked at the family in statistics, research and policy. A forth forum is planned for this year.

Comments on proposed legislation

5. While progressive in its aim to support families in the first months of a child’s life, in terms of gender equity the proposed legislation is a giant step backwards. In complete disregard for the idea that it should be the family whose choose who will be the main caregiver in the early months, it is proposed that only the baby’s mother can claim the 12 weeks’ leave. If the mother chooses she can transfer some or all of the leave to her partner. This can be the biological father or could simply be a new boyfriend. In the later situation, the biological father is likely to be seen as having a responsibility to provide income support to the mother but with no rights to take paid leave with his new child. The mother can also transfer the leave to her female partner if she is in a lesbian relationship. Under the current proposal, some fathers are not to be eligible for leave. In fact, paid leave is only available and capable of transfer to the father if both parents are employees. Fathers who would appear to miss out include those where CYPS takes the child from the mother at birth and places it with the father. If the mother is self-employed (and therefore not eligible for paid leave) but the father is an employee and eligible to take unpaid leave, he cannot take the payment or transfer it to his partner.

6. This proposal treats fathers as second-class citizens in families. There is much research to show that the transition to parenthood is a time when roles and responsibilities are being renegotiated. In a study of men’s use of parental leave in the Nordic countries for the Nordic Council of Ministers, Carlsen (1998:9) states, "[i]t is only in isolated cases that the father decides entirely on his own that he is going to take a period of leave. The family’s use of the different leave schemes is discussed by the family, and the family reaches a joint decision as to how much leave the mother will take and how much the father will take". In contrast, in New Zealand, for heterosexual couples the government places the negotiating power in the mother’s hands. The decision as to who should be the main caregiver should be a shared one. Clearly, the government does not support joint decision making in families. If we as a society want to involve fathers more around the home, fathers need to have a chance to learn something about babycare instead of being assigned a place at the periphery from the start.

7. While overseas research does show that it is mainly mothers who take most paid leave, there are increasing examples where the father is the main caregiver. The government has been keen to recognize some of the diversity in families in New Zealand with, for example, the legislation passed earlier this year to equally share property when de facto and same sex couples separate. However, it seems to have a blind spot when it comes to new roles that fathers might be adopting.

8. There are some situations overseas where there are specific provisions for paid maternity leave. For example, maternity leave in Denmark and Finland is not transferable to another partner. However, in most European countries there is also a designated period of paid leave for the father. In Denmark this is 10 days, in Finland one week, and in Sweden 2 weeks. Also of importance, in many European countries there is a much longer period of paid parental leave that can be equally divided between couples. In Sweden and Norway there is even a period of one month’s paid parental leave that the father is encouraged to take and is not transferable to the mother. In Sweden next year another "pappa" month is to be introduced.

9. In discussing the parental leave experience in Nordic countries, countries where use of parental leave is much higher than in other industrialized countries, Carlson notes (p. 10):

Men’s entitlement to leave, including economic compensation during leave, must be an independent right which is not related to the mother’s status on the labour-market (i.e. mothers’ working hours). Fathers must have the same access as the mothers to economic compensation during periods of leave. If men are not granted independent rights to leave and are not entitled to the same level of economic compensation as women, this constitutes negative discrimination.

History is important

10. It is surprising that the New Zealand scheme is effectively paid maternity leave, given Labour’s history in parental leave debates from the 1970s until the mid 1980s (Callister and Galtry, 1996). In this period Labour was a supporter of equal rights. In fact, it was in 1986 that Labour introduced the gender neutral Parental Leave and Employment Protection Bill. The most significant feature of this bill was the expansion of leave provisions to include fathers.

11. The 1986 bill replaced the Maternity Leave and Employment Protection Act, 1980. As indicated by the name, this Act only covered women. A key issue identified by the majority of submissions on the bill to the select committee was the need to expand the eligibility criteria for leave in terms of gender. Included in the submissions was one from the relatively new Human Rights Commission who argued that the bill ‘could negate this purpose of the Human Rights Commission Act by causing further discrimination against women in their employment opportunities and career advancement’. Even this consideration of men was therefore argued on the basis of its impact on women. A number of women’s groups also made the point that parental leave for the father was essential if a mother was seriously ill, died or otherwise was unable to care for the child.

12. This history seems to have been forgotten and in recent year when it comes to parenting issues there is a growing tradition of sexist legislation in New Zealand.

13. This, in part, can be explained by source of advice on parental leave. For example, in 1995 a government report was published on parental leave. The report was published by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and focused on labour market issues. Despite a small section addressing the issue of men’s use of parental leave the report concentrated on women. In recent years much of the thinking about paid leave has come from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and its Minister has primarily promoted the current proposal. If family policy continues to be primarily developed by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, then it risks not being gender neutral. This problem is further exacerbated because in this, and with previous governments, the same person has served as both the Minister of Youth Affairs and Minister of Women’s Affairs. Given that Youth Affairs should be supporting the implementation of UNCROC, which supports the parenting involvement of both parents, we think that the two roles need to be separated.

14. In addition, of relevance to the shaping of this legislation, in recent years there have been many examples when fathers and fathers’ groups have not been consulted when the government is developing important social policies. A recent example is the review of Human Rights legislation (see the Father&Child Society submission . Given that there is no "Ministry of Men’s Affairs" (and never likely to be one), the government needs to work harder at consulting men.


Callister, P. & Galtry, J. (1996). Parental leave in New Zealand: Is it meeting the needs of employees, employers and children? Paper presented at Striking a Balance: Families, Work, and Early Childhood Education seminar. Wellington, June 18.

Carlsen, S. (1998) Men on parental leave: How men use parental leave in Nordic countries. Report prepared for the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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