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Discord in government over parental leave reform

Finland's system of parental leave is generous by international standards—but research has shown it can entrench the gender pay gap as women tend to take much more of the available time off. Labour unions and employers have a plan to try and put that right, but there's no consensus within government on the right way forward.

Isä ja lapsi kävelevät.
Image: Olichel / Pixabay

Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen wants to shake up Finland's generous system of parental leave. Writing in Helsingin Sanomat, the National Coalition party minister backed a trade union proposal that care allowances and the 12-month period of parental leave should be equally distributed between both parents.

At present, women take the vast majority of parental leave and family leave in Finland.

Grahn-Laasonen wants parliament to finish its family leave reform before the next parliamentary elections, which are due in 2019.

"The National Coalition Party's view is that the system of parental leave can be reformed during this parliamentary term. There is more than half of the term left and decisions can be made during the mid-term deliberations next spring," Grahn-Laasonen told Yle.

6+6+6 model

She backs a proposal from the blue collar trade union confederation SAK, which would slightly lengthen the income-linked portion of parental leave and ring-fence some time off work for fathers.

The proposal is referred to as the 6+6+6 model, as six months of leave would be allocated to mothers, six months could only be used by fathers and six months could be shared between the parents.

It's supported by SAK, the Akava trade union confederation for highly-educated people, and the National Institute for Health and Welfare. The Finns Party and the Centre party, meanwhile, say that families should be able to decide for themselves who uses the parental leave.

The Centre's MP responsible for family issues, Annika Saarikko, is happy to see an increase in income-linked parental leave entitlements, but is opposed to a cut in the home care allowance. The allowance currently extends parents' possible time at home to up to three years.

Gov't wrangling

The allowance is a smaller monthly payment for the parents of children not in daycare, and the amount is not linked to earnings—and is regarded as one of the bigger problems in achieving equal pay for parents.

A cut in home care allowance would fund an extension to income-linked parental leave—but the Centre Party is opposed to that cut, and therefore wants to see the funding come from elsewhere. The allowance is currently used by the parents of around one in two children born in Finland.

SAK says that home care allowance is one of the main reasons women spend years out of the labour market, and that in turn negatively affects their earnings, financial security and pension entitlements.

Proposal to be shelved?

Both Saarikko and Grahn-Laasonen agree that parental leave should be more flexible. At present it must be taken before children hit certain ages, but the two MPs agree that the system could be improved if it were available until children hit school age.

However, the National Coalition Party is in the minority on the issue, with the other two parties in government happy to delay the reform.

"The National Coalition party wants this to be implemented immediately," said Grahn-Laasonen.

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