When dads (don't) take leave...
While 95% of dads in Australia take short periods of leave as a secondary carer for their child, few dads take more than 10 days. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 5% of dads take longer paid or unpaid parental leave as the primary carer of their child.
At a time when dual income families are the norm, women are increasingly supported back into the workforce and family compositions are changing – this seems incredibly low. It's time to look at whether corporate and workplace policies are keeping pace with the rate of change in society.
Given the dire state of maternity (let alone paternity) leave in other countries like the United States, it would be easy to presume that the state of Australia’s parental leave is fairly progressive in comparison to the rest of the world. But how do our leave benefits, particularly for dads, actually stack up? The reality is not as rosy as you may have thought.
In 2016 only 12.9% of all organisations had a strategy aimed at supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities, highlighting the extent to which organisations in Australia are underprepared for supporting families.
In the most recent update to the OECD Family Database, Australia ranked 19th in terms of government parental leave systems across OECD and EU countries. This summary compared the total weeks of father-specific leave (combining paternity leave, parental leave and home care leave) available to fathers during the first three years of the child’s life.
Australian fathers on average are paid for the equivalent of 4 days of parental leave during this period. In Korea the average for father is 17.2 weeks full pay; Japan is 30.4 weeks full pay; and France is 5.6 weeks full pay.
The Australian government defines a ‘primary carer’ as the person who:
‘...most meets the child's needs, including feeding, dressing, bathing and otherwise supervising the child in an age-appropriate manner. For a baby particularly, this role normally requires intensive physical involvement on an ongoing basis.’
The Australian Government offers 18 weeks paid leave for primary carers at the national minimum wage, but only 9.4% of organisations in Australia offer to pay the difference in order to top up their employee’s pay to their full pay. In a country with one of the highest personal debt ratios in the world, this immediately creates an economic barrier for both men and women who would otherwise take advantage of the policy.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) finds 50% of organisations in Australia currently provide paid primary carers leave. The average amount of leave offered by these organisations is 10 weeks, and in many organisations it is either offered only to women or there is still significant cultural bias against men using the policies. This not only limits the options for the increasing number of men who need to play a primary carer role, it also continues to perpetuate biases towards women being the main gender likely to take long career breaks to care for children.