Mixed reactions to government backtracking on paternity leave

The government had promised to set aside three months of parental leave for fathers but eventually decided that the idea was ineffective

Female students are predominant on five out of the six Copenhagen University faculties (photo: iStock)
September 5th, 2013 11:44 am| by admin
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A promise to introduce earmarked paternity leave has been dropped by the government, which is concerned that it could reduce the income of some families.

The idea to assign fathers three months of the combined 12 months of paternity leave granted to new parents, was otherwise supported by the three government parties during the election.

But yesterday, the Employment Ministry announced that it was the wrong strategy if the ultimate goal was to get more fathers to take time off to spend with their newborns.

“The government wants more fathers to take paternity leave which would benefit children, fathers and families, while also increasing equality between men and women,” the employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne), stated in a press release. “But the right method is not to legislate how families should choose to distribute parental leave.”

More dads should take time off
Of the 52 weeks of leave granted to parents, the mother and father are allowed to share 32 of those weeks however they see fit. The government had campaigned on reserving 13 of those weeks strictly for fathers.

But the government now says it discovered that many fathers employed in the private sector would not receive full pay during this time and the result would be that many families would be forced to choose between losing three months of parental leave, or taking the leave and suffering an economic hit.

Tax incentive for time off
“We don’t want to run the risk of having families end up taking less leave with their children than they do today,” Frederiksen said. “It has never been the government’s intention that children and families would end up paying the price for earmarked paternity leave.”

Instead, the government has decided to give families a tax incentive for more equally dividing up their parental leave.

The parent that takes the least amount of leave will receive a 100 kroner per day tax-free bonus if they take at least four weeks leave. They economic bonus will last a maximum of 12 weeks.

Mixed reactions
The government's turnabout was met with relief by the opposition.

“It's great news because we think families should have the freedom to choose how to divide up their parental leave,” Venstre's equality spokesperson, Fatma Øktem, told Ritzau.

The association of employers, Dansk Arbejdgiversforening (DA), was also pleased by the announcement.

“DA has watched with mounting concern how the government has wanted to dictate how parents divide their parental leave,” DA's chief consultant, Lise Bardenfleth, told Jyllands-Posten. “We do not approve of it because it is not the role of the government to dictate it. Parents are best at deciding how to divide it.”

Left-wing parties were disappointed, however.

"It is dissapointing that Socialdemokraterne and Radikale won't give fathers the same parental leave rights as mothers," Enhedslisten's Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen wrote on Facebook. "Old-fashioned cowardice."

Coalition partner Socialistisk Folkeparti was also disappointed that there was not enough support within the government to push through the proposal.

“We are of course not happy that the proposal for earmarked paternity leave was dropped,” MP Özlem Cekic told Ritzau. “We have had to accept that we are alone among the governing parties on this issue and that the differences in opinion are so great that we are unlikely to find any agreement”

Factfile | Parental leave

  • Parents are entitled to 52 weeks of parental leave.
  • The mother is entitled to four weeks before the birth, and 14 weeks after the birth.
  • Two weeks are set aside for the father immediately following the birth.
  • The remaining 32 weeks can be divided between the father and mother as they choose.
  • Parents who work for at least 13 weeks before taking parental leave are entitled to claim the benefit sygedagpenge, worth a maximum 4,005 kroner per week before tax.
  • Some employers may offer full or part pay to employees taking parental leave, depending on the employee's collective bargaining agreement.
  • The government has decided not to earmark 13 weeks of parental leave for fathers, as many employers do not offer full pay during parental leave, meaning they would have to either suffer a pay cut, or not take the leave.
  • Instead, the government has decided to give families a tax incentive for more equally dividing up their parental leave.
  • The parent that takes the least amount of leave will receive a 100 kroner per day tax free bonus if they take at least four weeks leave, and lasting a maximum 12 weeks. The maximum tax free bonus is 8,400 kroner.
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