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Report: Dads still slow to take advantage of paternity leave

Last year fewer than half of new fathers took paternity leave after their partners had returned to work.

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One in four dads took no parental leave at all, according to Kela's report. Image: AOP

Less than 10 percent of fathers (nine percent) with kids born in 2016 have taken all of their parental leave, according to a report from benefits agency Kela (in Finnish).The number of mothers who opted for maternity leave was 91 percent.

Last year, fathers took on average 36 days of parental and paternity leave, with more than two-thirds of dads opting to stay home with a newborn at the same time that their partners were home with the baby.

Fewer than half of fathers independently took parental leave after mothers had returned to work. A quarter of dads did not take any parental leave at all, a proportion that has remained more or less the same in recent years, Kela noted in the report.

The agency said that the number of fathers who received parental allowance in 2018 was 59,600, down 2.5 percent from 2017. It attributed the slight fall to the declining birth rate.

Gender roles likely at play

Finland wants to overhaul the parental leave system in a bid to lengthen parental leave and ensure gender equality. The previous government hoped the measure would encourage more dads to stay at home with their youngsters and in so doing reverse the ongoing slump in the birth rate.

Johanna Närvi, a research specialist with the National Institute of Health and Welfare THL, said that another reason that fathers may not be staying home with their new family members is baked-in views about gender roles.

"The division of labour has evolved over a very long time," she added.

However Närvi noted that it’s not possible to say categorically that fathers don’t want parental leave or that mothers will not let them take it. She said it was more the case that since mothers are the ones to initially stay at home with a young child, they are more likely to continue caring for them at home.

"The the more difficult it is to think that dad would take his turn to stay home. Of course fathers also take longer parental leaves but it is not that common," she the researcher continued.

Leave more complicated for small employers

Paternity leave in Finland runs 54 days or about nine weeks. Fathers can take a maximum of 18 days paternity leave at the same time that their partners are on maternity leave or are receiving a parental allowance. They can take the rest of their paternity leave once this period is over.

According to Kela, last year just fewer than 60,000 fathers and around 80,000 mothers received the parental allowance.

Närvi speculated that one reason more fathers do not take parental leave is that it may be difficult for employers to organise substitutes to cover weeks of paternity leave. It is rare for firms to hire temporary workers while fathers are on leave, prompting many men to avoid having their work distributed to others or going unattended altogether.

"This is one significant reason why [men] have problems going on long periods of leave," Närvi noted.

She also pointed out that small firms see family leave as tricky when it comes to covering both maternity and paternity leave. If even one employee is absent it complicates work routines far more than in larger workplaces.

Few men take child care leave

Ralf Holmlund, a chief shop steward at power systems firm Wärtsilä’s Vaasa facility, said that the company is generally open to paternity leave. He added that fathers working at the firm make good use of the option to care for their infants at home.

Employees tend to travel a lot for work, with young fathers often having to make trips far and wide., he noted. Holmlund said this may be the reason that they are given the opportunity to make full use of their parental leave.

Hannele Jakosuo, senior vice president for human resources, safety and procurement at oil company Neste, said that the firm is committed to gender equality and egalitarianism. She added that the company provides support for both mothers and fathers to take parental leave.

"Men’s parental leave has been part of the company’s gender equality and equal opportunity plan in Finland. We encourage fathers to take paternity leave and we monitor implementation," she wrote in an email.

Jakosuo said that while men do exercise their right to paternity and parental leave, few request child care leave in relation to the number of children born into their families. She noted that Neste also supports work and family life balance by facilitating flexible hours and remote working.

Some dads eager to take leave

At another large Finnish employer, elevator firm Kone, roughly 200 fathers have used part of their paternity leave entitlement, according to HR director Elina Jokinen. A somewhat smaller number has used all of their available leave. She noted that the practice cuts across all personnel groups.

Jokinen added that there has been an uptick in men going off on paternity in recent years, a development she described as positive.

"We encourage the use of paternity leave and also the balanced use of family leave," she declared.

The HR director also noted however that the number of dads receiving the child home care allowance is still considerably smaller than the number of men who take parental leave.

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