More needed to get dads to take parental leave

21 August 2019

Ten years after its introduction, and despite major achievements, experts at The Australian National University (ANU) say Paid Parental Leave policy needs a refresh in order to get more dads using it.

The researchers argue a revised policy is needed to help drive cultural change to encourage more fathers to take parental leave. While dads can take paid parental leave, only two per cent do.

Dr Liana Leach, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said Australia needs to create a more gender-equitable and flexible policy.

"The scheme is not flexible enough for mothers and fathers. The 18 weeks' minimum pay can be transferred to fathers, but this is rarely done because it is received by the primary carer," said Dr Leach.

"As the policy stands, parents need to make a decision about who the primary carer is in the family, and thus the leave is only transferred to fathers in about two per cent of cases.

"There is a stigma around dads taking parental leave. Fathers worry about taking time off from work and not advancing their careers. A male-breadwinner culture remains in Australia - dads go to work."

The Australian Government Paid Parental Leave scheme (PPL) provides eligible primary carers up to 18 weeks', and partners up to two weeks' paid parental leave at the national minimum wage.

Employers can make a voluntary top-up or voluntary superannuation payments for staff while they are on parental leave and new parents can take up to 52 weeks' employment-protected leave unpaid.

New research from ANU on PPL shows the scheme was designed as a minimum model to be improved upon.

Lead author of the report, Dr Belinda Townsend, says the policy was borne out of multiple struggles - including the role of women in society and questions over who would pay for a scheme.

She said the decision in Australia for a Government funded scheme with voluntary top ups from employers was a pragmatic one amid employer resistance to having to pay.

"Australia's welfare state evolved to favour male employment and has historically ignored issues for women and work," said Dr Townsend.

"This was a landmark social policy in Australia that has led to improvements for health. However, inequities in access remain. It was always intended as a minimum model that would be built upon over time."

Dr Leach said further research is also needed to find out why when some employers do offer dedicated leave for fathers and partners, it is still not being taken up.

"Some businesses offer secondary carers leave and that kind of offering entitles parents to leave when you are not the primary carer," said Dr Leach.

"But the problem is that when organisations offer this type of leave for fathers a lot of dads still don't take it."

The experts will be presenting their research at the Next Steps for Paid Parental Leave forum on 22 August 2019.