Career

Our Parental Leave Policy Is Changing: How We Compare With The World

Come July, parental leave will shape shift, and not necessarily for the better. The Australian government will scale back paid parental leave to prevent what former Prime Minister Tony Abbott delightfully dubbed “double dipping”, pressing young families to re-think how ready they are to financially support a little one.

At present, Australian mums receive 18 weeks paid maternity leave at minimum wage, plus payments made by their employer. But as of July next year, under the new Federal Budget, mums who snag paid parental leave from their employer will no longer also be supported by the government – unless their employer-paid leave is less than $11,500, according to the Department of Human Services.

This means about 80,000 mothers will lose some or all government paid leave, saving the Federal Budget $1 billion over the next four years to re-invest into childcare. This is “despite expert advice showing the existing scheme has improved the health of mothers and babies and lifted female workforce participation.”

And now it’s definitely too late to sneak in a cheeky pregnancy before the policy change.

The International Labour Organization sets the global standard and recommends a minimum of 14 weeks paid leave. So before things go down the double dip slippery slope for us, let’s take a look at how we compare with a few different countries for some perspective.

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We’ll get through this together, guys.

Parental Leave Around The World:

Australia

To recap, ‘straya gives the primary carer 18 weeks paid leave at the national minimum wage ($657 per week before tax) and partners, including same-sex partners, receive two weeks’ paid leave. Either parent can take unpaid leave for up to 12 months.

UK

British mum’s are guaranteed 39 weeks of paid leave, two of which are mandatory. Their parental leave system pays 90% of their weekly salary for the first six weeks, and then that or $285 (£139) per week, whichever is lower, for the remaining 33 weeks. As of April 2015, parents in Britain are now able to share 12 months of leave after the birth of a child. About time, guys.

Scandinavia

As per, Scandinavia has been ahead of the curve so long they’re about to overlap some countries. Offering deluxe sports bra-levels of support no matter where you are across the Nordic area, the days of paid leave (at about 80% of salary) for both parents can range anywhere from three months per parent to up to 390 days for both. And in some cases, you can use this leave all the way up to the child’s eighth birthday. The policies include the self-employed, unemployed, students as well as adoptive and same-sex parents. Boom.

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Happy days. © Photo by Tobias Bill, for The Swedish Dad

Call them what you will – DILFs, latte papas, the daddy pram parade – but the glorious abundance of well-dressed, good looking males pushing prams in Scandinavia is no fluke, it’s thanks to their world-leading paternity leave policies. In 1974, Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave (that thing the UK just sorted out in April), but when not enough men were taking it, they implemented non-transferrable, use-it-or-lose-it ‘daddy leave’ in 1995. This incentivised dads to take their generous paternity leave, and aimed to create greater gender equality in the workforce. Back then, only 6% of Swedish men took paternity leave. Now, that figure is 85%, and in Iceland it’s 90%.

Meanwhile, since 1949, Finland has been the Santa Claus of pregnancy, offering mums-to-be a pretty sweet maternity box brimming with clothes, bedding, diapers, towels, baby care books, breastfeeding guides and other child-care products.

United States

Parental leave in the US is a vastly different landscape. In fact, the US remains the only developed country that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. It is considered a benefit provided by the employer – not the government – and according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey in 2013, only 12% of working women have access to this support. Although, certain companies have been taking it upon themselves to be totally kickass with paid parental leave schemes of their own.

If you don’t work at one of those companies, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which says all employees are entitled to 12 weeks unpaid job-protected leave after the birth of a child. But – you must have been employed for at least 12 months by a company with at least 50 employees within 120 km of the workplace and have worked 1,250 hours during that year (which is about 24 hours a week). Hey USA, what’s good?

Mexico

Mexico may be the US’ closest neighbor, but its parental scheme is much more lenient. The Mexican Social Security Institute (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social) provides mums with 12 weeks of paid leave at 100% of their salary where IMSS pays 60% of the employee’s salary and the employer covers the rest. If necessary, maternity leave can be extended for a maximum of six weeks at half-pay too, giving parents the choice to choose.

Canada

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Justin Trudeau and family. Image: Liberal Party of Canada

The US’ rugged, friendly northern neighbour, Canada, can righteously peer down its nose at the USA. Besides having a dreamy Prime Minister all about the gender equality, Canada will support parents for a full year, with the mother receiving 17 weeks leave, and the 35 weeks beyond being shared between parents as they wish. This is at a minimum of 55% of their average weekly earnings, up to a capped amount of $520 (CA$524) per week. If you’re considered a low-income family you can receive up to 80% of your average earnings. Wages also depend on province.

New Zealand

Our Kiwi neighbours bumped up their policy from 14 weeks to 16 weeks paid leave in April 2015, and plan to scale up to 18 weeks by April 2016. You can also access up to $200 (NZ$220) a week for the first 10 weeks of your baby’s birth as part of the parental tax credit, and there is an option to take up to 38 weeks unpaid leave.

Japan

Guaranteed maternity leave in Japan covers a period of six weeks prior to the expected birth date to eight weeks after giving birth at around two-thirds of the mother’s salary. After the first eight weeks, leave turns into ‘child care leave’, where it’s the father’s time to shine. Parents can share child care leave however they like and it covers them for up to a year from the child’s birth. Not bad.


Leah Davies is a purpose-filled writer, human rights activist and coach for budding wordsmiths, who is driven to cultivate change through stories. She uses her experience as a journalist and international development worker at her conscious communications consultancy, Paper Planes Connect, to support the socially conscious to platform their voice and create change, both big and small.

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