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Minister defends Finland's family leave overhaul 

The Minister of Social Affairs and Health says the reform is foremost a measure to improve gender equality in Finland.

Aino-Kaisa Pekonen
Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen speaking to Yle on Saturday. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Speaking on Yle's talk show Ykkösaamu on Saturday, Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen strongly defended the government’s model to reform family leave.

The plan, which aims to encourage fathers to take more parental leave, is expected to remove 5,000 people from the workforce through the year 2030. The measure is also expected to raise annual parental leave costs by an estimated 100 million euros over current spending.

Pekonen said the additional 100-million-euro dent would only occur if every single parent maxed out all the leave they were entitled to.

"I believe we’ll end up somewhere halfway, slightly under 50 million euros," she said.

The minister pointed out that the reform was not a measure to improve employment but to improve equality.

"Women might return to work sooner when men have the opportunity to stay at home," she explained.

The new model would raise the total amount of time new parents can spend off work on income-based payments from 11.5 months to 14 months.

The catch is that the time must now be split more equally between men and women, with 6.6 months allocated to each parent and a month of 'pregnancy leave' for the expectant mother. Each parent can 'lend' three months of their quota to the other parent, but 3.6 months is 'use it or lose it' time.

Finland faces nursing shortage

Pekonen, a practical nurse by training, also told Yle she believed the government would be able to roll out changes which would raise the nursing ratio in the elder care sector to 0.7. This means there would be seven nurses for every ten elderly people in 24-hour care. The measure would require 4,000-5,000 additional nurses.

"The challenge is the lack of nurses," she said.

More than one in ten nurses working the public sector will retire in the near future, according to pension provider Keva.

Pekonen said the government could accept more applicants for nursing school and also look to recruit nurses from abroad.

"One reason I left inpatient wards for the elderly was that it was extremely strenuous work and I couldn’t follow my heart when it came to caring for patients the way I wanted to," she told Yle.

Pekonen said hospitals are often short-staffed—a problem higher staffing ratios would alleviate.

"All too often I had to tell people to wait for a moment. It was quite upsetting when elderly patients would ask me, 'how long is this nurse's moment?'"

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