Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paternity Leave?

A story from the BBC caught my eye.

The politics of paternity leave

It is those precious early moments with a new child that so many fathers treasure. A time to bond with their offspring and offer invaluable assistance to the mother.

After welcoming new daughter Florence into the world, Prime Minister David Cameron is taking his statutory paternity leave to be with his wife Samantha.

But it is an experience that not all his fellow fathers feel they can justify. Thanks to decades of shifting attitudes, their reluctance is not based chiefly on chauvinism or a belief that childcare is woman's work. The problem, instead, is money.

Some 45% of new fathers said they did not take paternity leave, according to a 2009 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Of those, 88% said they would have liked to have done so, and 49% said they could not afford it.

As it stands, new fathers with long enough service are entitled to £124.88 a week for two weeks, or 90% of their average weekly wage if that is lower. Assuming a 40-hour working week, it is a figure that comes in well below the minimum wage.

Fathers can take an additional 13 weeks off, unpaid, before the child turns five and, from April 2011, new mothers will be able to transfer the second half of their year-long maternity leave to the father. But this too will be unpaid, thus, again, of little help to those without the necessary savings.

For many families, the situation reinforces the traditional norm that the father is the breadwinner and the mother the homemaker.

Self-employed in Mexico, there is no government scheme I could have taken advantage of. As parents, we simply took the decision to reduce my schedule and workload to stay at home more while mommy went back to work. Mexico doesn't offer very much by way of maternity leave as it is, so I wouldn't expect there to be anything for fathers.

Maternity leave in Mexico (for those employed and paying into the Mexican social system) allows 100% paid leave for a full 88 days. That's all. Half of those days must be taken before the birth which is absurd as many women, including my girlfriend, are just fine working right up to almost the last moment. After the birth, mommy is tossed off paid maternity leave a mere 5 weeks later.

Some people get better packages through their work and private insurance, which we could have done as well. Had it been impossible for me to adjust my schedule, mommy would have certainly taken a full year off work.

I think Mexico hasn't made any changes to the maternity leave system simply because no one is pushing for it. Mexican families are much larger as a rule than their British or North American counterparts, and at every age a child is almost always in the company of aunts, uncles, and grandparents who usually live in the same neighbourhood. While women are certainly a large and important part of the Mexican work force (to varying degrees around the country), families are generally close and it is not common to see a women select career over family.

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