In Iceland, fathers are entitled to at least three months paid parental leave, compared to two weeks of taxpayer-funded support in Australia for the secondary carer. These advocates say it’s time for change.
For Sydney father-of-two Rob Sturrock, taking paid parental leave has meant a lot more than ‘babysitting’ his two young children, Clementine, three, and 10-month-old Byron.
“The first thing that just came home to me was just how precious and fleeting these young years are,” the 38-year-old tells SBS News.
“But also seeing my wife take her maternity leave and also going back to the workforce … you really see what working women are up against.”
Mr Sturrock, a public policy manager, and his wife, Julia Davis, a lawyer, made the conscious decision to split the parenting duties so they could still focus on their careers.
“There's still this notion that a dad taking care of his kids is almost considered babysitting or time off, and it's putting dads in this secondary carer box,” he said.
“We want an equal home and we respect our careers equally.”
But Mr Sturrock could only get a generous amount of paid time off thanks to his employer.
Leave entitlements in Australia
Ms Davis was able to take 18 weeks of paid parental leave (PPL) through the government, while Mr Sturrock has taken leave through the company he works for to care for both children.
In Australia, the primary carer is entitled to 18 weeks of tax-payer funded leave, capped at the minimum wage of $740.60 a week. Fathers can opt to take this, but claim it in just five per cent of cases according to ABS data from 2017.
For fathers and partners, there is a supplementary two weeks Dad and Partner Pay (DaPP) - which includes same-sex partners - paid at the national minimum wage. About 80,000 fathers and partners have taken this each year since 2015-16, according to the government.
But while the scheme meets the OECD standard of giving mothers 18 weeks of paid leave, the overall system falls below the average.
According to 2019 OECD data, which takes into account the duration of weeks and rate of pay parents are given, Australia’s PPL scheme ranks third last, only ahead of Ireland and the United States.
Iceland leading the way
One of the more generous parental leave schemes can be found in Iceland, where both parents get three months leave each, plus an additional three months which can be divided as parents choose.
The pay is capped at 80 per cent of the wage earned by parents.
Researcher Ásdís Arnalds, from the Social Science Research Institute of the University of Iceland, said the Icelandic scheme is modest for European standards, but it has seen ground-breaking results since it was introduced in 2000.
“What we've seen is that when we implemented this quota from Iceland for father for three months, that their participation and care of the children has progressively grown,” Ms Arnalds said.
“It had made huge cultural changes because when fathers were granted these three months of leave you suddenly started seeing fathers all over town walking with their babies, so it's become the norm.”
When fathers were granted these three months of leave you suddenly started seeing fathers all over town walking with their babies.
- Ásdís Arnalds, Icelandic researcher
Australian National University Professor Lyndall Strazdins from the College of Health and Medicine said when PPL was introduced in 2011 it was a landmark social reform. But now it’s time for a re-think.
“We could do, no pun intended, some baby steps with PPL and tweak the system we've got now,” Professor Strazdins said.
“One of the problems of not having legislated leave is that it doesn't legitimise father's time as a right for fathers to care and give them, if you like, a place to negotiate from with their employers about other ways of taking time to care for children,”
Calls for change
When Canberra couple Rohan Neale and Mari Kondo had children, they decided he would stay at home to care for their daughters, two-year-old Ellen and six-year-old Seras.
“That’s the decision my wife and I made because her career is something that she values a lot more ... I'm not particularly career minded at this point,” Mr Neale said.
He believes parental leave for fathers would encourage men to spend more time parenting and lead to a more balanced family life.
“We're moving in the right direction, it's not bad what we're offering relative to a lot of other countries that I'm aware of.”
“More of an opportunity for parents to have a work-life balance would be a sensible thing,”
Mr Sturrock knows getting generous paid leave through an employer is rare and hopes Australia’s system will evolve to encourage more fathers to take leave.
"Ultimately it would be great to see parental leave schemes designed for parents … removing the distinctions from Mums and Dads and just talking about parents equally."