Campaign begins for fathers to take paternity leave

A publicity campaign has been launched in Austria by the Federal Ministry for Women and Civil Service, to encourage fathers to take paternity leave. The campaign is supported by the social partners who are also publicising the issue among employers. Data show that less than 5% of all people receiving child care benefits in Austria are male. Meanwhile, a regulation for civil servants was implemented in January 2011, entitling fathers of new-borns to take up to four weeks off.

Background

The current childcare benefit scheme was first introduced in 2001, granting benefits to all parents, regardless of their former employment situation. After several amendments (AT0404203F, AT0710029I, AT0701039I, AT0812039I), one can now choose between four different flat-rate options for parental leave and one income-related scheme. The different variants range from the shortest version of 12+2 months (the extra two months if both partners go alternately on leave, receiving €1,000 a month), to the longest version of 30+6 months (the extra six months only if the second partner takes leave as well, receiving €436 a month). Starting in 2010, an income-dependent scheme (12+2 months, paying 80% of the former income, with benefits ranging between a minimum of €1,000 and a maximum of €2,000 a month) was implemented. It was hoped this scheme would encourage more men to take paternity leave. However, only a few fathers have used this option as they fear it will harm their career and income. The childcare benefit scheme allows the recipients to earn additional income up to a certain threshold without losing the benefit. When taking the income-related childcare benefit option, up to a maximum of €5,800 annually may be earned by the beneficiary. When taking one of the flat-rate models, up to 60% of the previous income (or at least €16,200 annually) may be earned without losing the benefit. If a recipient earns more than the defined income threshold, the difference between the threshold and actual income must be repaid. If, however, a claimant anticipates earning more, the childcare benefit can be waived for a specific period in advance.

Study shows fathers only rarely interrupt their careers

The share of fathers on parental leave increased from 1.9% in 2000 to 4.6% in 2010. The highest share was in the easternmost province of Vienna and the lowest in the westernmost province of Vorarlberg. However, fathers taking on childcare responsibilities are still disproportionately represented. A recent study (in German, 34Kb PDF) conducted by FORBA (Working Life Research Centre) analysed data provided by the Federal Ministry for Economy, Family and Youth (BMWFJ) on recipients of childcare benefits for September 2010. The study shows that the increase of the male share is mostly caused by self-employed workers and students, whereas dependently employed workers still tend not to interrupt their careers. This is far from the goal of childcare responsibility shared by fathers and mothers. One reason behind this is that traditional role models are still very prevalent in Austria. The data show that the comparatively highest male share is to be found among the model 15+3 months (11% men), followed by the 12+2 month model (7% men), the 20+4 scheme (5.8% men) and the 30+6 month scheme (3.9% men). Surprisingly, the model with the lowest percentage of fathers is that of the income-dependent benefit scheme (3.8% of recipients were men). However, as this last variant was only introduced in 2010, the results need to be interpreted very cautiously. It can be said, though, that the implementation of the income related benefit scheme did not immediately show the desired effects and has so far not triggered a change.

Women’s minister launched campaign

In order to overcome the adherence to these traditional gender roles Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, the Federal Minister for Women and Civil Service, started an awareness-raising campaign Echte Männer gehen in Karenz (Real men go on paternity leave), aimed at parents, but also to support their employers. Furthermore, the minister has introduced a so-called ‘daddy month’ (Papamonat) in the latest civil service law. New fathers who work in the civil service will have the right to four weeks unpaid leave within the first two months after their baby is born. The application needs to be filed at least two months in advance, so the first applications were brought forward with the implementation of the law in January 2011, and will come into effect in March. The leave does not affect entitlements to holiday or to other paternity leave entitlements. Moreover, social and health insurance contributions are to be continued during that time and the time off will still count towards pension claims, so there is no disadvantage to employees. New fathers have a legal right to this ‘Papamonat’ so long as they live in the same house as their child.

The law also states that employers’ interests need to be taken into consideration, implying that, theoretically, the fathers’ entitlement could be impeded. However, an HR representative in the civil service insisted that this stipulation would be applied only in extremely rare cases when these ‘official interests’ are very severe.

Colleagues of the absent father, not temporary workers, will cover for him during that month, which will lead to cost savings for the civil service. Ms Heinisch-Hosek, who drove this law through, wanted to offer paid ‘daddy leave’, but failed because of the unstable economy. She has stated that she envisages a compulsory paternity month for all fathers but has been widely criticised, with some arguing that a father cannot be forced to take time off. The civil service expect that a third of all new fathers will take advantage of the ‘daddy month’ and that this will persuade the private sector to follow suit. Ms Heinisch-Hosek hopes that in ten years’ time 20% of all fathers will take paternity leave.

Social partners to raise awareness among employers

All five social partners – Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), Chamber of Labour (AK), Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ), Federation of Austrian Industry (IV) and the Standing Committee of Presidents of the Chambers of Agriculture (PKLWK) – appreciate the ministry’s campaign and have initiated their own publicity campaign, with support from the Ministry for Women and Civil Service and the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection (BMASK). The aim is to help employers see the advantages of encouraging a more equal participation of fathers and mothers in childcare.

Herbert Tumpel, the President of AK, and Erish Foglar, President of ÖGB, want fathers to have an independent claim to paternity leave, because at the moment they have to take it either immediately following the mother’s maternity protection or her maternity leave. In practice, the current regulation is problematic. If, for example, a mother was a student rather than a dependent employee at the time of her child’s birth, she cannot take maternity leave. Trade unions also want parents to be able to combine parental leave with part-time work (AT0310201N), which is currently only possible to a limited extent (see above on additional income thresholds). Additionally, AK and ÖGB both want:

  • more information for parents in case their employer breaches labour law;
  • a ‘daddy month’ for all fathers within four weeks of their child’s birth (both AK and ÖGB introduced this in their own organisations in 2008);
  • protection against dismissal.

Anna-Maria Hochhauser, General Secretary of the WKO, says companies are aware of the importance of work-life balance and does not see the need for new rules, as present ones could be used. She emphasised the importance of not only raising consciousness among mothers and fathers themselves, but also among their colleagues. IV President Veit Sorger said reconciling care obligations and working lives is a challenge and criticised the shortage and lack of flexibility of childcare provision in Austria. Mr Sorger feels that companies concerned about their employees’ childcare obligations are the more attractive employers, leading to better motivation among their employees. This in turn increases both the company’s competitiveness and the loyalty and retention of the employee. The IV appreciates the income-dependent version of the childcare benefits and asks for a sustainable change in traditional gender roles. Chamber of Agriculture President Gerhard Wlodkowski points out that recently the perception of gender roles among farmers has already changed massively.

Bernadette Allinger, FORBA (Working Life Research Centre)

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