The impact of maternity and parental leave on employment (re-)integration

Author:European Union Publications Office
Pages:85-98
SUMMARY

2.1. Maternity and parental leave duration and financial support. Pre-2004 Member States. New Member States. Non-EU neighbouring countries. 2.2. Flexibility in parental leave provision. 2.3. Fathers’ entitlements.

 
INDEX
CONTENT

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There is a positive correlation between state provision for maternity, parental leave and childcare and maternal employment rates (Bruning and Plantenga, 1999; Bettio and Plantenga, 2004; Fagan and Rubery, 1996; Moss and Deven, 1999; OECD 2001; Rubery et al., 1999).

Entitlements provide an integration mechanism in two key ways; firstly, they encourage women to enter employment and/or work full-time up to the birth of a child to build up entitlement; and secondly, the rewards from employment are largely protected from deterioration, in contrast to the situation faced by women who are forced to quit and then re-enter the labour market when they want time off for child-rearing.

However, while leave entitlements provide a positive benefit which enables parents (still largely mothers in practice) to spend time with their young children while also operating as a (re-)integration mechanism for employment, long periods of leave carry some risks, depending on how they articulate with other family policy provisions and labour market conditions. If mothers take long periods of leave while fathers do not this can reinforce women’s ‘second earner’ status and the impact upon a woman’s career can be detrimental in terms of lifetime occupational mobility and earnings. In the short-term, from a household perspective it may not make financial sense for the woman to use expensive childcare rather than taking long leave, but over their lifecourse women may find themselves financially disadvantaged because of extended interruptions in their labour market participation. However, where the leave entitlements are shorter this can create other types of labour supply disincentives, for new mothers may exit the labour market rather than taking the short leave on offer if they are unwilling or unable to cope with resuming employment when they have a very young child. Alternatively, mothers may be obliged to re-enter earlier than they would like to due to financial pressures or worries about job insecurity, and this latter situation may deliver a high labour market participation rate for mothers of young children but largely through compulsion rather than measures that enhance opportunities for parents to try and reach their preferred arrangement.

The impact of parental leave provisions upon the integration and re-integration of mothers and fathers is shaped by four key issues; whether the leave is paid; the length and flexibility of the leave entitlement, whether it is supported by public funding of childcare; and whether men take leave as well as women. This Section will concentrate on three of these issues; childcare provision will be discussed in more detail in Section 4, although how the use of parental leave is dependent upon childcare will be highlighted.

2.1. Maternity and parental leave duration and financial support

The two key aspects that influence the amount of leave taken are whether it is a statutory entitlement and whether there is a reasonably high earnings replacement rate for extended maternity or parental leave, and in the case of father’s use of parental leave it is important that there is an individual entitlement to a sizeable leave period which can not be transferred to the mother (Bruning and Plantenga, 1999; Moss and Devon, 1999).

Pre-2004 Member States

When examining the pre-2004 Member States, both the length of statutory entitlements and the financial compensation for these varies considerably. In relation to maternity leave, provision is relatively uniform; the lowest is 14 weeks entitlement in Ireland and Germany while all other pre-2004 countries have entitlements of 15-20 weeks. The exception is the UK that has recently introduced an extension to 26 weeks maternity leave (see Appendix Table A.1 for details of specific maternity policies).

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In seven countries statutory maternity leave is paid at 100% of earnings (Portugal, Austria, Germany, Greece, Spain, France9 and the Netherlands). Maternity benefits in Denmark are calculated (as sickness benefits) based on earnings up to a maximum equal to full unemployment insurance benefit, where the replacement rate is relatively high by international standards and the proportion receiving full pay through collective agreements is growing10. Maternity pay is calculated at 80% of earnings in Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden and 70% in Ireland. In the other pre-2004 Member States there are various sliding scales; in Belgium women are paid 82% of earnings for the first month then 75% for the remaining period, in Finland is it an average of 66% of earnings dependent on income, and in the UK it is paid at 90% for 6 weeks and then paid at a flat rate of 100 pound per week for the remaining 20 weeks11.

Parental leave entitlements across the pre-2004 countries are more varied. Statutory leave entitlements differ in relation to the length of leave and the level of financial compensation, and where it is a non-transferable entitlement attached to the individual parent or a family entitlement where the parents decide how to allocate the leave between them. This is summarised in Table 2.1a, based on more detailed material presented in the Appendix Table A.1. This summary highlights the very different approaches to leave entitlements across the countries and provides a starting point to understand the nuances of how these different leave arrangements may impact on re-integration in different societal and economic contexts. Provisions within the leave scheme for the leave to be taken on a part-time basis and quotas reserved for fathers are not detailed in the Table and are discussed in Sections 2.2 and 2.3 below. It should also be noted that a flat-rate benefit may still provide a ‘good’ replacement rate for mothers with low-earnings. Furthermore, this Table does not take into account enhancements to statutory entitlements which are available in some workplaces (see den Dulk, 2001; Plantenga and Remery, 2005). For example, in the Netherlands the statutory right in unpaid, and part-time (6 month). Yet, parental leave is paid in some collective labour agreements, for example the CLA of civil servants. Under this agreement civil servants generally receive approximately 70% of their salary. In addition, they have a right to request full-time leave for a period of 3 months or part-time leave for a period of one year.

There is no one combination of parental leave duration and payment that provides a simple formula for the optimal arrangement to promote mothers’ employment integration across the different European countries, for the impact will be influenced by other institutions within the country, including the organisation of the childcare system, working-time policies and by the characteristics and conditions of the labour market. The national assessments of the way that the parental leave provisions shape women’s return to employment are summarised in Appendix Table A.2. Here we focus on identifying some general principles.

Statutory entitlements and high earnings replacement rates promote take-up. However, take-up can be affected by other workplace factors. The usual tendency is that public sector workplaces are more likely to offer enhanced reconciliation measures provision and provide a more supportive environment for those employees who use these provisions, but this does not always apply. For example, in Belgium in 2003 80% of the 16 720 women taking parental leave were private sector employees (ONEM). In some Belgian public institutions parents have to negotiate with their employer as to whether or not they can take paid parental leave, and this may depress take-up rates.

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Table 2.1. Summary of the duration and financial support for statutory parental leave entitlements1


A) Pre-2004 Member States
Individual entitlement to leave + shared entitlement to allowance paid at relatively high earnings-replacement rate SWEDEN (18 months full-time per parent with a parental allowance paid for 480 days per family, with 60 days of parental allowance reserved for each parent. Paid at 80% of earnings. Various options for flexibility and postponement)
DENMARK (32 per parent – 64 weeks in total, benefit paid for 32 weeks on the same rate as maternity and paternity leave is calculated. To be taken before the child is 9 years old. There is no period of paid leave reserved for the father. Various options for flexibility and postponement)
Family-based entitlement to leave with relatively high earnings-replacement rate for part of the period FINLAND (26 weeks per child to be taken after maternity leave, paid as for maternity leave – average replacement rate 66%, there is a bonus of up to 12 weekdays extra if the father takes the last 12 days of the parental allowance period. Each family is also entitled to a further care leave period until the child is 3 years old supported by a low flat-rate benefit)
Family-based entitlement to leave with limited financial support (flat-rate, income-tested or only paid for part of the leave period) Full-time for less than 12 months: ITALY (10 months to be taken before the child is 8 years old, extended to 11 months if father takes at least 3 months. Payment is equivalent to 30% of earnings for up to 6 months for children under 3 years, other months are unpaid)
Full-time until child is 3 years old: FRANCE (low flat-rate benefit available for those with 2 or more children, benefits limited to 6 months for those with one child)
Germany (flat-rate payment for 6 months and income-tested for 18 months, 12 months can be postponed to be used before the child’s 8th birthday)
Full-time until child is 2 years old/part-time until child is 4 years old: AUSTRIA (flat rate payment for 18 months, extended to 24 months payment if father takes some of the leave)
Family-based entitlement to unpaid leave Full-time until child is 3 years old: SPAIN2
Individual non-transferable right with flat-rate payment 3 months full-time/6 months part-time: BELGIUM3 (before the child is 4 years old)
6 months full-time/12 months part-time: LUXEMBOURG3 (the payment is only made for one parent, leave to be taken before the child is 5 years old)
Unpai individual non-transferable right 3 months full-time in total, before the child is 5 years old: IRELAND, THE UNITED KINGDOM
3 months full-time/6 months part-time before the child is 8 years old: THE NETHERLANDS
Longer unpaid period: PORTUGAL4 (6 months full-time before the child is 3 years old), GREECE (3.5 months in the private sector before the child is 3.5 years old, 2 years in the public sector before the child is 6 years old)

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Table 2.1. Summary of the duration and financial support for statutory parental leave entitlements1 (cont.)


B) New Member States
Family-based entitlement to leave with relatively high earnings-replacement rate for part of the period Full-time less than 12 month period: SLOVENIA (260 days at 100% of earnings + 75 days of the paternity leave can be taken before the child is 8 years old supported by a low payment)
Full-time until the child is 3 years old: ESTONIA (Parental benefit paid at 100% of earnings until the child is one year old, and the first 6 months are reserved for the mother; the other 2 years of leave are unpaid) HUNGARY (social insurance benefit at 70% of earnings below a ceiling until child is 2 years old, lower allowance for 3rd year) LITHUANIA (70% of wage until child is 1 year old, unpaid for rest of the period)
Family-based entitlement to leave with limited financial support (flat-rate, income-tested or only paid for part of the leave period) Full-time until the child is 4 years old: THE CZECH REPUBLIC (low parental allowance at 1.54% of minimum living standard) POLAND (flat rate allowance paid for 24 months)
Full-time until the child is 3 years old: SLOVAKIA (low income-tested allowance), LATVIA (low flat-rate allowance)
Unpaid individual non-transferable right 3 months full-time in total: CYPRUS (before the child is 6 years old) MALTA (before the child is 8 years old)
C) Non-EU neighbouring countries
Individual entitlement to leave and shared entitlement to allowance paid at relatively high earnings-replacement rate ICELAND (there is no special maternity leave, only parental leave of 9 months, with 3 months reserved for each parent, payment is 80% of earnings)
NORWAY5 (there is no special maternity leave, only parental leave of 42 weeks paid at 100% or 52 weeks at 80% of which 9 weeks are reserved for the mother and 4 weeks for the father)
Family-based entitlement to leave with limited financial support (flat-rate, income-tested or only paid for part of the leave period) Full-time until the child is 2 years old: BULGARIA (payment at minimum wage, unpaid leave available until child is 8 years old) ROMANIA (flat rate payment at 240% minimum wage)
Family-based entitlement to unpaid leave 3 months full-time in total: LICHTENSTEIN (before the child is 3 years old)

Source: For further details see Appendix Table A.1 (extracted from the national reports plus additional information provided by experts).

Notes:

1 Details of whether the leave can be taken on a part-time basis or fractioned or elements postponed are not summarised in this Table. For these details, plus details of maternity and paternity leave and other statutory rights for parents to adjust their working hours see Appendix Table A.1 and the discussion in Sections 2.2 and 2.3 of this report.

2 In Spain 4 weeks of paid maternity leave may be transferred to the father to be taken while the mother is on maternity leave or at the end of her maternity leave; this is more akin to paternity leave than parental leave.

3 In Belgium the benefit is flat rate (547 euro/month for full-time leave) but assessed by the national expert to be set at a quite generous level. In Luxembourg the level of benefit received is earnings-related and in practice close to the minimum wage (SSM), 1 692.66 euro for full-time leave and 846.33 euro for a part-time).

4 In Portugal fathers are entitled to 15 days paid parental leave if taken following either paternity or maternity leave.

5 In Norway in addition to the paid parental leave (42 weeks at 100% or 52 weeks at 80% compensation) there is a right to one year of unpaid leave, and a flat rate benefit (3 657 NOK/month) for children aged 1-2 years providing the parents do not use public childcare.

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Box 2.1. The Austrian system of child support delivers resources to families but provides few incentives for mothers to resume employment

The emphasis of child support is on universal measures rather than means-tested benefits, through a combination of tax credits (Kinderabsetzbetrag – currently 51 euro per month and per child) and family allowances, both of which are paid to the carer. There is some additional support for large families living on a low-income: in 1999 an additional supplement to the universal family allowance paid per child was introduced for low-income families with at least 3 children (currently 36.40 euro per month for the third and subsequent children).

Parental leave is available until the child’s 2nd birthday and only marginal employment is permitted during this leave, which is out of line with the recent increases in tax thresholds

A flat-rate childcare benefit (kinderbetreuungsgeld) was introduced in 2002 to replace parental leave benefit. It is paid for longer than the parental leave period – 30 months for one parent (mother) and another 6 months for the other parent. There is no requirement for an employment record prior to the birth (except for immigrant women). There is a supplement for single mothers and low-income families.

The combination of the childcare benefit and the inadequate levels of childcare and other care services combine to channel women out of the labour market. A recent evaluation of the new childcare benefit concludes that this has led to a longer withdrawal of women from the labour market without producing a stronger involvement of fathers in the care of younger children. The proportion of mothers returning to employment before their child is 2 years old has declined from 54% to 35%, with the decline being most pronounced among women who had become mothers at younger ages, those with several children and those in low-paid jobs.

There are provisions for parents to work part-time while on leave, but they can only retain the childcare benefit if their earnings fall below the tax threshold.

Source: Mairhuber (2004)

Parental leave entitlements can intersect with other policies which affect take-up. In Finland, for example, Ilmakunnas (1997) reports a high take-up of the ‘home care allowance’ which allows parents – after the parental leave period when the child is approximately 9 to 10 months old – to take childcare leave with full employment security to look after a child under the age of 3 while receiving a home care allowance. The policy is used to reduce the demand for municipal day care and is available to parents who do not use public childcare services. As a result mothers can defer their return to employment for quite a lengthy period, which can create problems for re-integration and their lifetime earnings’ profile. In other countries where childcare services are more limited, extended periods of leave may serve to defer labour market exits but do little to promote employment resumption at the end of the leave period, for example in the case of Austria (see Box 2.1). France is another example where the parental childcare allowance (APE) for non-employed mothers and for single parents (API) can create an incentive for labour market withdrawal for mothers, particularly for those who are low-paid or low-skilled, and the problem is that subsequent labour market re-entry is difficult (see Appendix Table A.2).

In contrast, the take-up of leave entitlements in those countries with short leaves that are unpaid is minimal (Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the UK) and the lack of financial support is a key explanatory factor in this (Moss and Deven, 1999). Where unpaid leave exists this means that in practice women select between either a resumption of employment or a labour market exit, which can create a division between those women who remain integrated into employment and those who exit. For example, in Ireland, research on attitudes in relation to parental and ‘force majeure’ leave revealed that the largest barrier for employees taking parental leave are financial concerns (42%) (Barry et al., 2004). In Spain the lack of paid leave entitlements is identified an obstacle to continuity in women’s employment as women are forced to exit the labour market prematurely (Moltó, 2004).

The Netherlands is an exception, including a higher take-up rate for men than in other countries with unpaid statutory entitlements. In the Netherlands approximately 16% of men take parental leave, usually on a part-time basis. On average, those men who take parental leave do so for 8 hours per week over a period of 36 weeks. However, if leave is paid – which it is under a number of collective agreements – the take-up rate rises to approximately 40% (Bruning and Plantenga, 1999).

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The level of financial support available can also serve to perpetuate inequalities between those who are highly educated and better-paid and those in lower-paid and less secure jobs. For example, in the UK, those that can afford to take unpaid leave are in well-paid and secure jobs, in part because while the UK still has a comparatively short period of earnings-related maternity leave in the statutory scheme, this is enhanced for some women by their employers – typically those who are in better-paid and higher status occupations and public sector employees (Hogarth et al., 2001). In contrast, many low-income mothers cannot afford to take unpaid parental leave and this combined with a lack of public childcare provision can force them back into low-paid, part-time jobs where both the financial compensation and the work-family reconciliation are poorly catered for. This is also the case in Italy; for while the maternity and parental leave legislation is identified as a key mechanism in explaining women’s continuity in employment after childbirth, this is more so the case for those women who have access to good quality jobs which enables them to retain a strong labour force attachment after childbirth (Villa, 2004). Women in Italy who have secured employment with regular contracts (a standard permanent employment contract) enjoy a substantial amount of employment protection and have a higher incentive to stay active in the period immediately following childbirth. In contrast, women employed in less protected and secure jobs, with inferior social protection (in particular, in terms of maternity leave and parental leave) are very likely to withdraw from the labour market. In France, the paid parental leave for mothers with two children or more serves to deter women in low-paid, low-skilled work form returning to the labour market, while few highly-educated women take-up this option (Silvera, 2004). It is therefore important to consider not only how parental leave impacts upon gender equality but also how it impacts upon other forms of equality and serves to disadvantage those with fewer resources.

The crucial role of employment protection in ensuring the attachment of mothers to employment is central. While generally in all pre-2004 Member States those on parental leave retain their contract and associated benefits, this may not be a key incentive for those women who will be returning to poor terms and conditions of employment. In contrast highly educated women in a relatively strong labour market position are more often in the situation where their employment contract and benefits are maintained along with the right to return to the same or a similar equivalent post, and this ability to return to the previous job may be an incentive to resume employment for some women. However, this return to the previous job is not always guaranteed. In Luxembourg women who take the ‘baby years’ allowance are guaranteed pension rights but are not guaranteed a return to their previous job or an equivalent job (Plasman and Sissoko, 2004). There are also more subtle ways those in parental leave miss out on key benefits. For example, in France the period of parental leave is subtracted from the total length of service when calculating conditions required for rights to training (Silvera, 2004). This is currently being revised as it discriminates against those taking parental leave (see Section 3). The Austrian report highlights that women returners not only face threat of dismissal but also unilateral changes of working hours or work content by employers (BMWA/BMSG 2000). However, protection against dismissal ends 4 weeks after the child’s fourth birthday (Mairhuber, 2004).

New Member States

As for the pre-2004 Member States, maternity provision varies between the new Member States. The period of leave ranges from a high of 28 weeks in Slovakia and 24 weeks in the Czech Republic to a low of 14 weeks in Malta (details of all maternity policies found in Appendix Table A.1) Payment levels are 100% of earnings in Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta (for 13 of the 14 weeks), Poland and Slovenia. In the Czech Republic maternity leave is paid at 69% of earnings and in Slovakia it is paid at 55% of earnings. In Cyprus women receive 100% of earnings for the first 10 weeks from the employer and 6 weeks at 75% of pay from the state.

Parental leave entitlements vary considerably across the new Member States (see Table 2.1b). Malta and Cyprus follow the pattern of provision found in the UK and Ireland with individual, non-transferable short unpaid leaves of 12 weeks and 13 weeks respectively. In the other 8 new Member States the leave is a family-based entitlement. Four countries provide a family-based entitlement to leave until the child is 3 or 4 years old but with only limited financial support (the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Latvia). In Estonia 255 days are paid at average salary following maternity leavePage 91 while the other 2 years are unpaid and in Slovenia 260 days at 100% of earnings are provided (based on the average personal earnings over the previous year). In Hungary the leave period is paid at a reasonable replacement rate for 2 years and a reduced rate for the third year, and in Lithuania leave is paid at 70% of the wage until the child is one year old and then unpaid for a further two years.

As found in the pre-2004 countries, leave entitlements create both opportunities for women’s re-integration into the labour market and obstacles to their re-entry. The earnings replacement rate becomes crucial in explaining take-up. In Hungary, the long leave combined with high levels of benefits act as a discouragement to re-integration, particularly in the context of poor public childcare provision (Nagy, 2004). However, unpaid short leaves alone do not automatically encourage women’s re-integration. For example, in Cyprus, take-up of leave is very low because not many can afford to take unpaid leave but it is only because women in Cyprus often rely on extended family networks to provide childcare that they can participate in employment relatively soon after childbirth (Panayiotou, 2004). In Latvia, although the poor financial situation of families provides incentives for women to return to the labour market early, the lack of childcare for pre-school children means women will defer re-entry until their children are old enough to enter preschool education for 5-6-year-olds which is free and compulsory (Trapenciere, 2004). The combination of relatively well-paid, medium-length parental leave provision and public childcare would appear to be a successful mechanism in Slovenia. Parental leave in Slovenia has been used by women to balance work and family obligations and improve their position in paid employment. Generous parental/family legislation (together with good institutional childcare arrangements) has enabled women to remain in the labour market in similar terms to men (Kanjuo Mrˇcela, 2004). When these policies contradict each other women’s position becomes particularly difficult. This trend can be found in Poland where high unemployment means that the number of women using parental leave has declined because of both financial difficulties and worries about losing promotion prospects. However, reduced state support for the family (both in terms of income and provision of services), underdeveloped flexible work patterns and discriminatory practices, have meant these women are forced back to work at a time when it has became more difficult to combine paid work with child-rearing (Kotowska, 2004).

As pointed out in the discussion of the pre-2004 Member States, the impact of parental leave provision on different groups of women’s re-integration is important (see Appendix Table A.2 for more detail on the different countries). This can be seen in Lithuania, where maternity and parental leave provision is paid at 70% of previous earnings. The expert’s report highlights that this limits the incentives for those who are poorly paid to return to employment while encouraging the well-paid to resume employment (Kanopiene, 2004).

In the Member States parents theoretically retain their employment contracts. However, it does not seem to be sufficient to secure their original post. In Hungary, approximately half of women returners return to their original workplaces (Lakatos, 2001) and recent research carried out by the Labour Force Survey in 1999 found that 32% of returners had employers who did not want to re-employ those returning from parental leave. The loss of promotion prospects are also a worry for Polish women (see above). Therefore the limits of formal protection must be addressed by exploring the impact upon women’s careers once they return to employment.

Non-EU neighbouring countries

In the non-EU neighbouring countries, maternity leave varies. Iceland and Norway do not have separate maternity and parental leave provisions; rather the parental leave policy is relatively generous and contains a period reserved for the mother. Thus in Norway there is entitlement of 42 weeks at full pay (or 52 weeks at 80% of earnings) with 6 weeks of this counted as maternity leave which can only be taken by the mother and 4 weeks reserved for the father. In Iceland parental leave can be taken for up to a maximum of 9 months and is paid at 80% of previous earnings, with three months of this is reserved for the mother. The other three countries have specific maternity leave periods of similar duration to the range found in the pre-2004 Member States, with relatively high replacement rates: 20 weeks in Lichtenstein at 80% of earnings, 19 weeks in Bulgaria at 90% of earnings and 18 weeks in Romania at 75% of earnings.

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Parental leave provisions also vary between short, medium and long leaves with differing levels of financial support (see Table 2.1c). The most extensive provisions are found in Norway and Iceland, already discussed in the previous paragraph. In both Romania and Bulgaria either parent can take parental leave until a child is two years old with a flat rate payment. The lowest level of provision can be found in Lichtenstein with 3 months unpaid parental leave to be taken by one parent before the child is 3 years old.

Again, it would appear that leaves can be both too short and too long. In Lichtenstein, the only non-EU country where parental leave is unpaid, many low-income parents cannot afford to take advantage of these provisions and therefore take-up is low (Papouschek, 2004). In contrast, the benefits in Romania would appear to act as a disincentive for women’s re-integration. Crucially, it is the combination of these benefits and poor quality childcare services that discourages women’s continuity of employment (Zamfir, 2004). Furthermore, it would appear that highly educated women are more likely to reap the benefits of leave entitlements. This can be seen in Norway, where the leave arrangements have created incentives for women to resume employment but women with lower educational levels have weaker labour market attachments and have fewer entitlements to leave (Ellingsæter and Hedlund, 1998).

2.2. Flexibility in parental leave provision

The level of flexibility given in leave arrangements is central to the take-up rates of both mothers and fathers (Moss and Deven, 1999). Although Sweden is often given as the example for a parental leave scheme which is both generous and flexible, greater flexibility is being introduced into parental leave arrangements in many of the other countries in this study. Examples of increased flexibility are the use of parental leave on a part-time basis, the ability to use blocks of leave rather than take leave in a continuous period; the right to defer leave and the right to reduce working hours.

Part-time leave in particular is becoming more widely available. Over half of the pre-2004 states (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden) offer this as an option, while in the Netherlands the statutory parental leave was initially only available on a part-time basis and is now available either part-time or full-time. The possibility to take parental leave on a part-time basis, particularly when the leave is supported by a parental leave allowance or benefit provides a key re-integration mechanism which reduces the disruption to mothers’ employment careers.

There has also been some development in rights for employees to negotiate reduced or flexible working hours. In Sweden a parent can take 75% of normal working hours until a child finishes the first year of school. A few other countries also have statutory provision for reduced or flexible working hours; in some countries this is only open to parents or those with other care responsibilities (e.g. the UK), but elsewhere it is a generalised option for all employees (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium). Here the detail of the entitlement is important. In the UK the entitlement is a right to request flexible or part-time hours, but the mechanisms for appeal are weak if the employer refuses. In contrast, the recent reform in the Netherlands provides parents with a stronger right to this arrangement, with the grounds for refusal by the employer being more specific and limited.

The use of leave in blocks, or what is termed as ‘fractioning’ where there is the possibility of taking leave in more than one portion over an extended period rather than taking it in one continuous period, is not as widely available in country provisions. Belgium, Finland Sweden and Italy (and to some extent Ireland where 14 weeks can be taken in shorter blocks if employers agree, and also in the UK), provide this flexibility although there is also the possibility to postpone a part of leave in Germany and Denmark. Other examples of flexibility include reducing working time to 30 hours during parental leave for each parent in Germany, and to between a third and half in Spain; and in Greece there is the option of either reducing the working day or for the mother to take 9 months paid leave instead.

In general, the level of flexibility in leave arrangements is less developed in the new Member States and the non-EU neighbouring countries compared to the pre-2004 Member States. Among the new Member States there are some provisions allowing primary carers to return to work on a part-time basis in Hungary, Slovenia and Lithuania but suchPage 93 statutory provisions do not exist or only provide limited reductions for breast-feeding mothers in the other post-2004 Member States. Among the non-EU countries, leave can be taken on a part-time basis in Norway (50-60-70-80 or 90% of working hours) until the child is 2 years old. However, very few parents use this flexibility, and the complicated rules for the uptake are believed to be a main reason (Ellingsæter, 2004). In Iceland the employee is permitted to make arrangements with her/his employer for parental leave to be divided into a number of periods and/or that it will be taken concurrently with a reduced work-time ratio, and the employer is obliged to try to meet the wishes of the employee. There are no provisions to take parental leave on a part-time basis in Lichtenstein, Bulgaria or Romania.

In relation to the option for flexibility in leave a key issue is to monitor the implementation and take-up, and if take-up is low, the reasons why this is the case. For example in Finland since the beginning of the 1990s parents have been able to reduce their working hours with financial compensation (70 euro/month) if they were employed for one year prior to taking the leave and provided that they work 30 hours a week, with the specific arrangements subject to agreement between the employer and employee. This was extended in 2004 until the child is in the first and second year of school; previously it only applied until their third birthday. However, the 2003 Quality of Life survey showed that only 8% of eligible mothers were using this leave and only another 8% had used it previously. While 29% would like to take it, 23% said it was not possible due to the nature of their job or financial reasons and another 31% said they would not like to take it (Lehto, 2004).

2.3. Fathers’ entitlements

Out of the pre-2004 countries five countries have no paternity leave (Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland) and the other pre-2004 Member States have limited provision ranging from 2 days (Greece, Spain and Luxembourg) to 18 days (Finland). Among the new Member States paternity leave does not exist in 4 countries (Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia) and is under discussion in the Czech Republic. In Poland there is no reserved period of paternity leave but part of the maternity leave may be transferred to the father. In the other 4 countries paternity leave exists, ranging from 5 days in Poland up to 15 days on full earnings in Slovenia. In Slovenia the statutory paternity leave also provides for fathers to take a further 75 days supported by more limited payment before the child is 8 years old, which is closer to a form of parental leave entitlement although is distinct from the parental leave provision. In the 5 non-EU countries in this study paternity leave is only provided in Norway – where 2 weeks unpaid leave are available in addition to a reserved period within the parental leave system, and Iceland where there is no separate paternity provision but a reserved paid period of 3 months within the parental leave system.

Paternity leave is typically a short period around the birth, and while this is an important time policy which helps men to be involved with their child from birth, a more significant mechanism for encouraging men to adjust their working time over a longer period is parental leave provisions. Hence, we concentrate here on entitlements for fathers in parental leave provision. Men’s take-up of parental leave is very low in most countries, and although rates are higher and/or rising in some countries the male take-up rates remain much lower than that for women (Bruning and Plantenga, 1999; Moss and Deven, 1999). Key features of parental leave schemes which appear to be critical in encouraging male take-up are a statutory entitlement with an individual non-transferable element reserved for fathers and whether there is a high level of earnings replacement available to fathers who take leave, which we focus on in Table 2.2. Flexibility is also important, as discussed in the previous section. In addition to these statutory features, workplace characteristics have also been shown to have a critical influence on male take-up rates – this includes enhanced financial provision though collective agreements, as well as organisational practices and cultures which operate to convey whether or not it is acceptable for men to take leave, and promotional campaigns to shift social norms in favour of fathers spending more time looking after their children (Bruning and Plantenga, 1999; Moss and Deven, 1999).

As we have seen, parental leave provisions are very poorly compensated with a number of countries only providing unpaid leave (see Table 2.1). While men are able to take parental leave in all the countries in this study, in most countries there are few incentives for fathers to use it because the entitlement is either unpaid or can be transferred to thePage 94 mother; hence the inducement for fathers to ‘use it or lose it’ is quite modest in practice.

Thus in 7 countries fathers have an individual, non-transferable right to unpaid parental leave (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands, the UK, Cyprus and Malta) and in Luxembourg the individual right is only supported with a flat-rate parental leave payment for one parent, with no reserved paid leave element for fathers.

The Netherlands is a particular case, where fathers have an individual statutory right to unpaid parental leave, but the law provides for the leave to be taken part-time and payment is provided in a number of collective agreements. These policy measures, combined with active promotional campaigns, has produced a climate in which father’s use of parental leave is higher than in other countries with unpaid statutory rights, although take-up is lower than for mothers in the Netherlands. In Belgium each parent has an individual non-transferable parental leave entitlement supported by a flat-rate payment.

Sweden, Norway and Iceland have periods of parental leave supported at a high earnings replacement rate (80-100%) reserved for fathers: 4 weeks in Norway, 60 days in Sweden and 3 months in Iceland. In Denmark each parent has an individual entitlement to 32 weeks, however, of the total 64 weeks only 32 weeks are covered by a parental allowance (calculated on the same basis as maternity and paternity leave), and none of these paid parental days are reserved for fathers (previously 2 weeks were reserved but this has been reformed in the name of giving more flexibility to families to decide how to use the leave). In these four countries men’s take-up of parental leave is higher than in most other countries, and is rising – although in Iceland a recent change in financial support in parental leave has created a disincentive for fathers to exit employment and care for children (see Table 2.2). However the amount of leave taken by fathers in these countries is still much lower than that taken by mothers.

In Finland, there is a period of parental leave reserved for fathers within the family allocation which is shorter than that in the other Nordic countries in this study: if fathers take 12 days of the families’ entitlement then they receive another 12 ‘bonus’ days, with a earnings replacement rate of approximately 66% for each day taken. In Slovenia, while the parental leave entitlement is a family-based one, within the paternity leave system fathers have a non-transferable entitlement to 75 days leave with a minimum benefit to be taken before the child is 8 years old. In addition, the full earnings replacement rate within the Slovenian parental leave allocation of 260 days means there is no financial disincentive for the father to use part of the family-based allocation, although over institutional and normative barriers deter father’s take-up evidenced in the negligible take-up rate by fathers (see Table 2.2). The family-based entitlement to parental leave in Austria and Italy also contain some more modest incentives for fathers to take some part of the leave. In Austria the flat rate benefit paid for 18 months is extended to 24 months if the father takes 6 months of leave. In Italy the family entitlement is extended from 10 months parental leave to 11 months if fathers take 3 months leave any time until the child is 8 years old. In Portugal there have been recent measures to improve fathers’ use of family leave, but there are some inconsistencies in the measures (Box 2.2). However, in all of these five national examples the reserved periods for fathers (‘daddy days’) are quite short or the financial incentive modest.

Box 2.2. Reform to maternity and paternity leave in Portugal recognises the role of fathers but does not develop a systematic approach

Maternity and paternity protection and rights at work have been strengthened, with some emphasis on improving father’s involvement through paternity leave. However there are contradictions rather than a systematic approach to fathers: some regulations promote the sharing of care work between mothers and fathers but others do not. For example, mothers of a child aged under 12 months have the right to refuse to work extra hours, but this right is only extended to fathers if they shared the maternity leave. Furthermore, much of the rest of policy debate emphasises creating part-time and flexible working arrangements for mothers, with no attention to the role of fathers.

Source: Ferreira (2004)

In the other 13 countries in this study the parental leave system is a family-based allocation where there is no period specifically reserved for fathers. The majority of these countries take a passivePage 95 approach. While, in theory, mothers can transfer their leave entitlements to fathers, there are no policy measures to encourage fathers to take a proportion of parental leave. However, those systems with a high earnings replacement rate for part of the leave period (Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia) provide fewer barriers to men’s take-up than those which offer more limited support (France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia) than those where only unpaid parental leave for the family is available (Spain, Lichtenstein). Where parental leave is poorly compensated or unpaid and transferable between parents if the system is used it will be taken by the mother. This operates to reinforce the unequal gender division of household labour, even if it provides some measure of re-integration into employment for mothers compared to systems where parental leave does not exist.

Table 2.2. Parental leave measures targeted at fathers

Are there policy measures targeted at men to encourage them to take parental leave?

BE: The individual non-transferable entitlement creates some incentives for fathers to use the provision, but there are no policy measures targeted specifically at encouraging fathers’ take-up.

CZ: Parental leave is a family-based entitlement and there are no measures to encourage fathers to take parental leave. If a father stays at home to care for children for the first 6 months he receives a parental allowance unlike a mother who also receives an additional ‘maternity’ allowance. A change has been proposed that will entitle men to receive the equivalent of a ‘maternity’ allowance.

DK: Each parent has an individual non-transferable entitlement to 32 weeks parental leave. However, the parental leave benefit is only paid for 32 of the 64 weeks and irrespective of which parent takes the paid leave. The financial loss is usually less if the mother takes a larger proportion of the leave. There are no policy measures targeted specifically at men to encourage them to take-up their parental leave entitlement. The flexibility of the new leave arrangements has encouraged men to take longer leaves but women still take the large proportion of the entitlement.

DE: There is no period of parental leave reserved for fathers. Studies have shown that that the parental leave regulation did not change the division of labour between mothers and fathers and rather than encouraging fathers to take leave, it stabilised the mother’s withdrawal from employment by offering some financial incentives (parental leave allowances, tax reductions and pension payments) without guaranteeing a proper return to employment. As fathers are not obliged to take parental leave, their propensity to do so is minimal, not only in households where their earnings are higher. Their low take-up rate is mainly influenced by gender stereotypes in the family and at the workplace (Peinelt-Jordan, 1996; Engstler/Menning, 2003: 118).

EE: Fathers can choose paid parental leave when a child is 6-12 months old. However, this is transferable from mothers rather than an individual right.

EL: The individual entitlement creates some incentives for fathers to use the provision, but there are no policy measures targeted specifically at encouraging fathers’ take-up. However, it should be underlined that fathers are not entitled to the childcare leave in the public sector and are not encouraged by specific incentives to take childcare leave in the private sector. This leaves the burden of caring on the mother.

ES: There are few policy measures targeted at men and no individual non-transferable parental leave entitlement. Four weeks of maternity leave may be transferred from the mother to the father, payable at 100% of earnings but this is optional. Some regions provide additional incentives to fathers taking leave to care for their children. The local government of Castilla-La Mancha pays 900 euro/month to fathers that take at least one month leave after three weeks paternity leave). País Vasco and Galicia offer an additional paid paternity leave period for public sector employees.

FR: There is no period of parental leave reserved for fathers. For the first time, there is an incentive for sharing of care responsibilities between parents which involves a monthly allowance (of 457.35 euro) to be increased to 609.80 euro if both parents share the leave by working half-time. (NAP, 2001). However, since the change of government, this measure has not been monitored.

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Table 2.2. Parental leave measures targeted at fathers (cont.)

Are there policy measures targeted at men to encourage them to take parental leave?

IE: None other than the individual non-transferable unpaid parental leave entitlement. There are no specific policy measures targeted at men to encourage them to take parental leave or request flexible hours.

IT: There is some encouragement for fathers to take a proportion of parental leave (at least 3 months out of 10) because the family will ‘lose’ the possibility of one additional month if they do not take up their entitlement. Fathers cannot simply transfer their right to the mother.

CY: None other than the individual unpaid parental leave entitlement. The incentives are insufficient to encourage men to take leave because in most Cypriot households it is the father who has the higher income and therefore this may discourage him to take full parental leave.

LV: Parental leave is a family-based entitlement, and no period is reserved for fathers although they have a right to take parental leave under labour law. Since 1 January 2005, 10 days of parental (father) leave has to be paid.

LT: Parental leave is a family-based entitlement and there are no policy measures to encourage fathers to take a proportion of parental leave. Whether the mother or father takes parental leave (for the period after maternity leave till the child is 3) depends on the decision of family.

LU: There is an individual non-transferable entitlement to parental leave, but the leave period is only supported with a benefit for one parent. There are few measures aimed at encouraging men to take parental leave. These incentives are often limited to rare information campaigns and legislative arrangements encouraging fathers to take up the leave. In Luxembourg paternity leave can be considered as encouraging father’s awareness of the necessity to take care of their children and of the possibility to share parental leave with the mother. Other incentives are the possibility to take part-time leave.

HU: No, parental leave is a family-based entitlement. However, new paid paternity leave is expected to encourage more men to take paternity leave.

MT: None other than the individual unpaid parental leave entitlement. There are no policy measures to encourage fathers to take parental leave and as it is unpaid this could create a major financial disincentive to take up their entitlement.

NL: The individual entitlement creates some incentives for fathers to use the provision, and 12% of the fathers who are entitled to parental leave make use of it. Payment of the leave proves to be crucial. In non-commercial services, including public administration and education that often have paid parental leave, the take-up rate is up to 40% (Portegijs et al., 2002). Multimedia campaigns have been used to encourage men to become more involved in care activities. At the moment there is a campaign `Men taking the lead: who does what?' which aims to encourage dialogue between partners (men and women) on the current division of paid and unpaid labour.

AT: Parental leave is family-based rather than an individual entitlement. The payment system contains an incentive for the father to use part of the leave, for failure to do so means that 6 months paid leave is lost for the family.

PL: Since the mid-1990s both parents are entitled equally to use the family-based entitlement to childcare leave and parental leave and benefits but there are no statistics available on their use by women and men. Research suggests these regulations have not changed the perception that the reconciliation of work and family is mainly a woman’s problem as only a small proportion of men take up these new opportunities.

PT: Yes and No. The extension of paternity leave to 5 working days and the 15 days of parental leave is now paid at 100%, provided that they follow the maternity or the paternity leaves. There are an increasing number of fathers that benefit from the legally established leaves associated with paternity. The paternity benefit (relating to the 5-day leave after childbirth) has shown an increase, especially after 2000, from 12 931 to 40 577 beneficiaries in 2003. The parental leave allowance increased from 146 beneficiaries in 2000 to 27 384 in 2003. There is no doubt that the early announcement that the paternity leave would become compulsory from 2004 had a positive effect and, in a way, also affected the level of adherence to parental leave (INE, 2004). Despite the significant increase in the number of fathers who take leaves with allowances paid by Social Security, when we compare the allowances granted for paternity and maternity leaves, we see that, in 2003, only about half of the fathers applied to paternity allowance (40 577 as compared to 78 672 mothers who applied to maternity allowance) (INE, 2004). This single indicator confirms the conventional pattern according to which women take more and longer leaves than men. The most difficult issue seems to be raising the participation of men in caring for others during illness. In 2003, 1 700 men received the benefit for the care of ill or disabled children, as compared with 33 190 women (INE, 2004).

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Table 2.2. Parental leave measures targeted at fathers (cont.)

Are there policy measures targeted at men to encourage them to take parental leave?

SI: The parental leave entitlement is family-based. There are no reserved days for fathers and no specific measures to encourage them to take parental leave. Less than 1% of eligible men take parental leave. However, it is expected that fathers will use the new (paid) paternal leave more extensively. According to research by the Governmental Office for Equal Opportunities, in February of 2003, 1 422 fathers (more than 90% of eligible fathers) used the right to paid paternal leave (during the maternal leave of the mother) taking on average 8 days.

SK: Parental leave is a family-based entitlement and there are no policy measures to encourage fathers to take a proportion of parental leave. Whether the mother or father takes parental leave depends on the decision of family.

FI: The parental leave entitlement is family-based. The ‘bonus-days’ for the father, introduced in 2003, can only be used if the father takes the last 12 days of the parental allowance period. According to preliminary data, the number of fathers taking the parental allowance has doubled with the reform of extended paternity leave and partial parental leave (Takala, 2004). The education and labour market position of the mother strongly influences whether the father takes family leave. Leaves are most generally taken in families where both spouses have a high level of education. (Lammi-Taskula, 2004).

SE: The parental leave entitlement is family-based, but fathers are strongly encouraged to take active part in their children’s upbringing as 60 days of the 480 are earmarked for them. If the father, for one reason or another, cannot take days off (with 80% of their wage income) and spend time with the child, the family ‘loses’ these days. Since these 60 days can be spread over a fairly long period (until the child is 8 years old) there are almost no excuses for fathers not to take parental leave.

UK: None other than the individual unpaid parental leave entitlement. There are no specific policy measures targeted at men to encourage them to take parental leave or request flexible hours.

BG: There are no special policy measures at men to take parental leave, the right to do so is relatively new for Bulgaria. The preference of who takes parental leave depends on individual family choice, the employment status of the family members and the level of earned wages.

IS: The parental leave entitlement is family-based, with 3 of the 9 months reserved for the mother (there is no separate maternity leave). There is no period of parental leave reserved for fathers and a recent changes in financial support for parental leave has created a disincentive for fathers to exit employment and care for children. In the spring of 2004, the government put a limit on the maximum amount paid to persons on parental leave as the Parental Leave Fund was on the brink of bankruptcy. The number of men willing to use their right to parental leave and wages had been underestimated when the act was passed. This limit on the amount paid to those on parental leave would have excluded 2% of those receiving payments in 2003 from receiving 80% of their past earnings and the great majority of those excluded would have been men (see Mósesdottir, 2004).

LI: As parental leave can only be taken by one parent, it is to be expected that parental leave will predominantly be claimed by women. This may discourage fathers to take on more childcare responsibilities.

NO: Four weeks of paid parental leave is reserved for the father and these weeks cannot be transferred. The remaining weeks are a family entitlement as they can be shared as the parents prefer (the two weeks unpaid statutory paternity leave is paid in the public sector and in some private sector agreements).

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Table 2.2. Parental leave measures targeted at fathers (cont.)

Are there policy measures targeted at men to encourage them to take parental leave?

RO: Parental leave is a family-based entitlement; there are no measures to encourage fathers to take parental leave.

However, even in countries where more men are taking some portion of their parental leave, if the number of days taken is relatively short then the actual impact on the household division of paid and unpaid work and upon labour market divisions may be quite limited (Bruning and Plantenga, 1999). For example, while a relatively high proportion of Swedish fathers take parental leave, the reserved portion of 60 days can be spread quite thinly over a period of 8 years, and the amount taken by fathers is significantly less than that taken by mothers. Similarly, In Norway, women take up most of the leave (about 92% of all leave days) and women taking up long leaves is seen a potential cause of the levelling off of the decrease in the wage gap between men and women (Hardoy and Schøne, 2004).

Furthermore, a higher take-up of parental leave by fathers does not necessarily lead to a lower exit from employment by mothers. In Denmark, for example, in 2003 men were taking longer leave (from 2.6 weeks in 2002 to 3.2 weeks in average in 2003) but women had also prolonged their leaves even more – from 25.1 weeks to 28.6 weeks in average in 200312. This is also the case in Germany, where the leave system has been reformed to make it more flexible, including incentives to combine part-time work and parental work and to stimulate shorter leave periods. However, the latest data show, that in over 90% of households the father was employed full-time and the mother took either full-time (60%) or part-time (32%) leave. Furthermore, the education and labour market position of the mother also strongly influences whether the father takes family leave. For example, in Finland, leaves are most generally taken in families where both spouses have a high level of education (Lammi-Taskula, 2004).

This shows the importance of how parental leave provisions interact and depend on other policy objectives. While reforms may have changed attitudes slightly, in countries such as Germany, the lack of childcare for children under 3, the low financial compensation and fathers’ low propensity to take part in care activities mean there are still few incentives for women to remain in employment. Furthermore, the role of employers also needs to be addressed. Most studies in Germany point to the fact that parental leave may act as a negative signal towards employers´ propensity to invest in young women's human capital (Maier, 2004). This is also the case in Denmark, where LO (the Danish Trades Union) and DA (the Danish Employers' Confederation) have recently warned against women’s use of a long parental period as it can make women less attractive for the labour market (Emerek, 2004).

The use of leave by fathers is important if employers are to revise their policies and assumptions about women in the workplace. If women are associated as a ‘cost’ this can lead to discrimination. In fact, in countries such as the UK employers use good maternity and parental leave provision to promote good retention rates but this is less widespread in small companies, where the explanation offered is frequently the operational costs faced by small firms (Millward et al., 2000). This is also another way inequality can be perpetuated. Those who are employed by ‘good employers’, very often in the female-dominated public sector, are more likely to reap the benefits of leave entitlements that go beyond statutory entitlements and family-friendly policies compared to those in low-paid jobs. Furthermore, as long as fathers do not take leave, organisational cultures will remain unchanged and be premised upon long hours and full-time working in the intensive child-rearing years as fathers continue to be able to follow this pattern. Therefore statutory entitlements are not enough. Employers also have a role in encouraging a more equal sharing of family and work to ensure the integration of fathers in the labour market does not come at the expense of mothers.

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[9] In France maternity leave is paid at 84% of earnings (although not taxed) but most collective agreements and civil service conditions provide for a supplement in order to guarantee full pay.

[10] Public sector employees receive full pay while on maternity leave in Denmark, and a new agreement on the collective maternity fund which will commence in July 2005 will increase the proportion of employees entitled to full pay while on maternity leave.

[11] Higher earnings replacement rates and/or longer periods of paid maternity leave are available in the public sector and many large private sector companies in the UK.

[12] One factor which may contribute to the lengthening of parental leave periods taken by mothers is the extension of breast-feeding, which is actively promoted by health policy.