Paternity leave: How does Australia stack up?

by Juliette Willow16 Jun 2014
While most fathers want to take time off to spend with a newborn child, many do not have access to paid leave. On average, legislated paternity leave offers just under two weeks, while fathers who do take leave tend to take a mean 2.2 weeks. Still, only about 60% of fathers take paternity leave at all – but there are huge discrepancies between nations because of legislation.

Boston College’s Center for Work & Family recently surveyed fathers around the world as part of a project on working dads. “Most fathers in our survey felt that between two to four weeks of paid paternity leave is an appropriate amount, considering both work and family obligations,” said Brad Harrington, lead author of The New Dad study. “Organizations that want to retain their best talent must acknowledge that fathers are playing a more active role in their families, and consider paternity leave as an essential benefit.”

One company that offers men generous paternity leave is Ernst & Young, where fathers get up to six weeks’ off on full salary. “The business case for benefits like paid paternity leave is clear to us,” said Karyn Twaronite, the company’s Americas inclusiveness officer and former HR head. “…the progressive men in our workforce consistently utilize it over time and increasingly express a desire for flexibility.”

As far as legislation, here’s how four developed nations compare:

Australia
Australia offers a fortnight’s paternity leave on minimum wage, and one year’s unpaid parental leave, and as a result about 90% of fathers take paternity leave in the country. However, only those earning less than $100,000 annually are eligible. Parents may also share an additional 18 weeks’ paid leave at minimum wage, which is usually used by the mother.

Canada
Only Quebec provides dedicated paternity leave, with up to five weeks at 70% pay or three weeks at 75%. They also have access to 32 weeks’ unpaid, shared parental leave. Outside Quebec, parents share 25 weeks of paid parental leave at 55% pay up to $501 a week.

New Zealand
Fathers are allocated one to two weeks’ unpaid leave, but less than 10% of fathers take up this legislated leave: when employers offer paid leave, Kiwi fathers are five times more likely to use it. However, they can get up to 14 weeks’ paid leave if transferred by the child’s mother. Parents also have access to 38 weeks’ unpaid leave.

United States
There is no leave specifically allocated to fathers, but parents have access to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave according to the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, only about 58% of workers in private companies are covered by the FMLA. Of 34 developed countries reviewed by the International Leave Network, the US was one of just two nations that did not legally mandate paid paternity leave. To make up for shortfalls in federal law, some states have stepped in to provide paid benefits. California was the first state to do so in 2004, when it provided six weeks’ paid leave at 55-60% of earnings for parents. In Rhode Island, parents get four weeks’ paid leave up to $752 a week. New Jersey offers workers up to six weeks’ paid leave at 66% of prior wages. 

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