Government plans to extend paternity leave

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In April 2002, the Finnish government submitted to parliament a report on child-related policy, which proposes that fathers specifically should be entitled to one month of childcare-related leave. At the same time, the social partners have promoted fathers' leave by conducting a 'time out for family' campaign, aimed at achieving a more equal use of family leave periods and increasing equal opportunities in working life.

On 11 April 2002, the government submitted a report to parliament on child-related policy, which examines the changes in society that have influenced the wellbeing of children and young people over the past decade. Further, the report evaluates methods for reconciling family and working life.

Background and content of report

The government's report is based on the findings of a tripartite working group project which was completed in November 2001 (FI0111101N). The working group proposed lengthening paternity leave by one week from 18 to 25 working days. At present, a father has the right to take paternity leave during the maternity or parental leave period. The maternity leave period is at present 105 days and the parental leave period, when either the mother or the father can stay at home, is 158 days (TN9801201S). The Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (Toimihenkilökeskusjärjestö, STTK) and the Employers' Confederation of Service Industries (Palvelutyönantajat, PT) made an alternative proposal, whereby fathers would be entitled to take an extra 12 days off after the parental leave period, if they had already taken at least 12 days of the parental leave.

At the same time as the working group issued its report, parliament asked the government in autumn 2001 to prepare a report on child-related policy, in view of increased problems related to young people and children in families. The report issued in April states that the basic structure of Finnish society for safeguarding its children, young people and families with children is still functional. It proposes that family policy should be developed so as to offer tools for promoting children's growth and development, and to ensure their development potential under all circumstances. Even if 'things are going well' for the majority of Finnish children, the proportion of those for whom 'life is going badly' has increased and the problems have become more difficult. It is stated in the report that, in order to prevent marginalisation, it is necessary to intervene in the situation of those children and young people in bad positions, and hence the safeguarding and development of the relevant services is of primary importance. The central idea is sufficiently early intervention in the problems affecting children, young people and the family.

Because an important part of the wellbeing of children and young people is the possibility for parents to give their time and be able to function as good child-raisers, the report concludes that the reconciliation of work and family should be promoted by supporting parenthood and flexible, optional opportunities for parents to take care of their children.

Fathers' own month of leave

The government report proposes that fathers should have their 'own' month of childcare-related leave, in line with the STTK and PT model, which would improve their opportunities for participating in childcare. The present 18-day paternity leave period would remain as it is. In addition, fathers would be entitled to two more weeks off if they use at least two weeks of the parental leave entitlement (ie the '12 12 days' model). So, in practice, the time when the either the mother or the father could be with the child would be extended by two weeks.

At the moment, fathers can take their leave in four segments at most. The compensation received during paternity or maternity leave is a daily allowance equivalent to sickness benefit, which is about 66% of pay. The compensation level for fathers is worse than for mothers, who receive - under the terms of many collective agreements - one to three months' full pay during their leave. The reform is intended to encourage more fathers to use this opportunity, so that the equality mentioned in the report would be better achieved.

In Finland, parents have equal rights to parental leave. At present, the 158-day parental leave can be used by either mother or father. However, in 2000 only 1,500 fathers used this leave, while almost 100,000 mothers did so. The paternity leave meant only for fathers was used by 63% of fathers of newborn children. Now, Finland is aiming to follow the developments taking place in other Nordic countries (FI0111121F) and amending the legislation so that leave periods for fathers will be lengthened. An Act amending the Health Insurance Act in relation to the father's month of leave is under preparation and will be submitted to parliament in autumn 2002.

Social partners' views

During April 2002, all social partner organisations promoted the use of father's leave periods through a 'Time out for family' ('aikalisä perheelle') campaign, in which experiences of using parental leave were presented at different events throughout the country. Until now, the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (Teollisuuden ja Työnantajain Keskusliitto, TT) and the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) have regarded somewhat sceptically the possible increase in the use of paternity leave, fearing the costs arising from this. Now, however, they have changed their attitudes and are also campaigning in order to increase the use of paternity leave periods. PT has strongly favoured an increased use of paternity leave, because the costs arising from the use of parental leave have been concentrated mainly in the female-dominated service sector that PT represents. The public sector employers' organisations - the Commission for Local Authority Employers (Kunnallinen Työmarkkinalaitos, KT) and the State Employer's Office (Valtion Työmarkkinalaitos, VTML) - have also participated in the campaign.

In addition to the joint campaign, STTK has presented its own programme, which proposes fathers' increased use of family and paternity leaves, development of afternoon kindergartens and increased flexibility of working hours to help employees cope with changing situations in their lives.

The Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals (Akateemisten Toimihenkilöiden Keskusjärjestö, AKAVA) has stated that the increase in paternity leave ('the father's month') should not be carried out in such a way that the corresponding leave would be taken away from women through a shortening of parental leave.

Commentary

The aim of the planned Finnish 'fathers' month' is to increase equality between women and men in relation to childcare. So far, it is mainly the mothers who have stayed at home to take care of their children. This is because, for economic and attitudinal reasons, other possibilities have not existed in practice, even if fathers and mothers have in principle had equal opportunities for parental leave. The use of the leave periods almost exclusively by women has put an economic burden on female-dominated sectors.

Now there is an endeavour to change the situation by making father's leave more attractive, by influencing attitudes through the social partners' campaigning, and by amending the legislation. In addition to the attitude problem, the low level of compensation for paternity leave has also been an obstacle to fathers' enthusiasm. Mothers have been guaranteed paid maternity leave by collective agreements, whereas fathers receive only a daily allowance equivalent to sickness benefit. Adjusting the fathers' compensation to the same level as that for women would be in accordance with equality thinking. A more equal sharing between female- and male-dominated sectors could also have an effect on Finland's low birth-rate and hence on the available workforce. In the next incomes policy bargaining round (the current central agreement expires at the end of 2002), these issues are likely to be on the table.

Finland is following the Nordic trend of increasing paternity leave periods, and this could serve as a model for the rest of Europe, too. (Juha Hietanen, Ministry of Labour)

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