Recently, from the 1st April 2015, paid parental leave laws in New Zealand were improved. At first when I heard this news it sounded great – as when we had our baby (just over a year ago now) my partner, who’s originally from America, was amazed at the level of support she received in New Zealand from the Government in terms of paid leave and also in free healthcare for herself and the baby. The law changes mean a new parent can now receive an extra two weeks paid leave, increasing from 14 to 16 weeks, and an extra $70 for low-income families, increasing from $150 for 8 weeks to $220 for 10 weeks.
However, as I was buying a morning coffee the other day I read in The Dominion Post that even with the changed law, New Zealand still ranks near the bottom of countries in terms of how much paid leave the Government supports. We’re now the 3rd to worst country, as ranked against the 34 countries on the OECD list – only Switzerland, Mexico and the United States are worse than us (the US, where my partner is from, offers zero paid parental leave).
To quote the article:
“Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse said not only had the Government committed to extending paid parental leave, it had also confirmed measures to improve access to it.
But Woodhouse didn’t respond to questions about whether New Zealand’s ranking was good enough compared to other developed countries.”
The article came as quite a shock, as I didn’t realise New Zealand had such a low offering of paid support for having a baby compared to other developed countries. Although, after a bit of thought and also browsing the comments left on the article, it needs to be pointed out that the article took its figures from merely comparing the duration of paid parental leave between countries, while not comparing any other crucial factors such as comparable wages, qualification criteria for receiving parental leave, comparable value of support received during leave, and so on. In short, the article, whether intentional or not, was aiming to get readers riled up without painting the full picture. It definitely got me thinking about the issue.
The current financial reality in New Zealand must mean that even with the changed paid parental leave law which came into effect April this year it must still be difficult on many New Zealand parents to have a new baby. From our experience we’re finding it difficult financially with our one year old – although we did make the decision that my partner would leave her job to stay at home full-time. My partner’s decision was based on health mainly and also wanting to be there for our child growing up. While some mothers, or fathers, choose this route of staying at home, many chose to return to work – either because they want to continue working, perhaps in order to build their career without a setback of time out, or because it’s a financial necessity for them to continue bringing in a weekly pay check for a growing family. Returning to work after paid parental leave, or continuing to work through the birth, must bring with it lots of stress and hard decisions. I don’t know how parents do it. How do you cope?
There are further changes coming to New Zealand’s paid parental leave law. In April 2016 paid parental leave will increase again, from 16 to 18 weeks, and availability will improve to cover more workers. So things are increasing again in the future. However, this increase to 18 weeks will only put us on equal footing with the length of leave Australia already offers. These changes will no doubt stir up some debate, and more articles in the newspaper especially considering, and this applies to any system, social support such as this can be taken advantage of.
Author Bio: Max Bell is the Father of two young children, a small business owners, and a student studying a Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey University. He also writes online at obstaclemethod.movementunleashed.com.
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