Fathers Take Longer Parental Leave, Earlier

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As a result of three recent significant changes to parental leave legislation, new fathers are taking longer parental leave, with an increase in fathers taking time early in their new child’s life. This, in addition to an increased number of birth from previous years, requires additional funding from the government to the Parental Leave Fund amounting to 940 million ISK, included in the government’s spending bill presented to Parliament this week.

More births and more fathers on leave

According to the bill, three factors lead to increased spending in the Parental Leave Fund. Firstly, a higher proportion of 2019 fathers used their parental leave in the latter part of the parental leave period than in earlier years. Secondly, more 2020 and 2021 fathers take their parental leave in the first three to six months after birth, as opposed to later in the period. Thirdly, 2021 is shaping up to be the year with the most births since 2010.

A win for equality

Director of the Parental Leave Fund Leó Þorleifsson told Fréttablaðið that the increase in expenditure was a positive sign. “I’m still not sure how high we can set our hopes for the effects of the new parental leave rules but there are indicators that it’s pretty successful,” Leó stated.

According to Leó, three significant changes in regulation have led to fathers taking more leave. The first one was in January 2019, when the maximum payment was increased to 600,000. The next was in 2020, when parental leave was extended to 10 months. Finally, last January, parental leave was again extended to 12 months, divided equally between the parents, although six weeks are transferrable. An earlier system allocated nine months parental leave, with three months for each parent and three divided between them. Before the changes, notably more women than men took most of the three shared months.

Leó stated that many men still choose to transfer the six weeks, but more and more fathers are choosing to take the four and a half months leave allotted to them. “They also seem to be taking their leave earlier than before, both in 2020 and 2021. This may be both because they have more leave they can take and because the discourse towards fathers taking parental leave has been very positive.” It used to be that most fathers would take 4-6 weeks just after the birth and take the rest of their leave later, but now, they take more leave during the first months of new parenthood.

Pandemic might play a part

This data suggests that fathers are increasingly taking leave and using their right to parental leave to the fullest. “This is a good step towards equality and very good for the children,” stated Leó. He notes that this early data should be taken with a grain of salt as the global pandemic might have some effect. “This can’t be ruled out and likely has some effect. But I think the largest part of the increase in fathers taking parental leave has to do with the increase in maximum payments and the increase in parental leave specifically allotted to each parent.”

The gap between leave and preschool remains

When asked what the next steps were, Leó stated that it’s essential that maximum payments continue to reflect wage development but notes that the next big step has to do with childcare. “The next big step that the system as a whole needs to focus on is how to bridge the gap between parental leave and preschools..”

Arion Bank to Ensure 80% of Staff Salaries During Parental Leave

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Arion Bank has announced that it will guarantee employees up to 80% of their wages during parental leave. The bank promises to pay employees with salaries upwards of 600,000 ISK per month (€4,015 / $4,643) – which is the salary cap, before taxes, of the Parental-Leave Benefit Fund – an additional benefit so that they can take home close to 80% of their regular wages.

Encouraged to make full use of their parental leave

In a statement published on the bank’s website on Wednesday, Arion Bank declared that it would henceforth guarantee employees up to 80% of their wages during parental leave. The benefit will be granted in addition to payments from the Parental-Leave Benefit Fund and other compensation negotiated through collective-wage agreements. The statement further encouraged employees to make full use of their right to parental leave.

The salaries of bank employees vary. As reported by Kjarninn, the monthly wages of individuals employed as consultants and brokers, including those working for Arion Bank, exceeded ISK 1.7 million (€11,377 / $13,158) last year. According to the bank’s new parental-compensation package, the average Arion broker would earn approximately ISK 1,360,000 (€9,103 / $10,528) during up to six months of parental leave, or ISK 760,000 (€5,087 / $5,882) more than the expected payment from the Parental-Leave Benefit Fund.

Employees with salaries of ISK 1 million (€6,693 / $7,740) a month receive an additional ISK 200,000 (€1,339 / $1,547) and employees earning ISK 800,000 (€5,355 / $6,192) receive an additional ISK 40,000 (€268 / $310).

Hope to ensure equality of wages in the future

The parental-leave package forms a part of Arion Bank’s endeavour toward gender equality. “The average wages of men, whether in Arion Bank or in society at large, exceed those of women,” the statement from the bank reads – “and fathers are less likely to use their parental leaves than mothers.”

“Guaranteeing employees 80% of their wages during parental leave, regardless of gender or position,” the statement continues, “makes it easier for them to take time off. In this way, this initiative aims to encourage more fathers to make use of their rights. In the future, this step may prove beneficial in ensuring equality of wages between men and women, on the one hand, and increasing the number of women in managerial positions and other positions, on the other hand. Today, women form 44% of the bank’s management.”

The statement ends with a quote from Director Benedikt Gíslason: “We hope to make the bank a more desirable place of employment in the eyes of young and talented people.”

Twelve-Month Parental Leave Approved

The government has approved a bill on birth and parental leave presented by Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason. The most notable change is the extension of parental leave from the current ten months to 12 months for children that are born, adopted or fostered permanently from January 1, 2021.

The main change proposed in the bill is an extension of parental leave from 10-12 months. Each parent will have a right to six months of leave, but parents can transfer one month between them so one parent will be able to take seven months and the other 5. The bill has gone through the government’s consultation gateway, and some changes were made during that process. The most controversial point of the bill, inciting the most comments in the Consultation gateway as well as public discourse, is parents’ equal rights to leave. Previous laws had stipulated four months of leave per parent, and two months they could divide between them according to their preference. While some criticised the bill for reducing flexibility for parents, others have praised it for encouraging men to take equal leave as women.

Before the consultation process, the proposed bill stated that parents forfeit the right to leave if they hadn’t used it before the child reached the age of 18 months, but the revised bill allows parents to take leave until the child is 24 months old, as before. Other stipulations in the bill include the transference of the right to parental leave if one parent can’t use their leave. The reasons including restraining orders, no right to parental leave in Iceland or their country of origin, or if the child’s paternity is disputed.

The bill is the result of the work of a committee the Minister appointed in 2019 to review the 20-years old laws on parental leave. The minister had stated that even though the rules were progressive at the time, it’s high time to review them. “We want Iceland to be a good place to have and raise children, and with this bill, we’re increasing the rights of parents to spend time with their children in the first months of their lives.” Projected costs of parental leave in 2021 will be 19.1 billion ISK, just under double the amount in 2017.

 

Changes to Parental Leave Law Encourage More Equal Division of Childcare

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Proposed changes to Iceland’s parental leave law hope to more equally balance childcare responsibilities between mothers and fathers, Kjarninn reports. If the current revisions are passed, both of a child’s parents would be allotted six months of leave, but only one of those months would be transferable between parents.

A new draft of the new parental leave law has been published on the government’s website and will be open for public comment until October 7.

At the end of 2019, parliament voted to extend parental leave from nine months to 12. This change will go into effect on January 1, 2021 and, per Minister of Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason, will be extended in stages. Parental leave in Iceland is currently 10 months—four months per parent plus two that can be shared between them. However, studies have shown that the majority of fathers in Iceland only take the four months specifically allotted to them, while the majority of mothers take their four months as well as the two months that they could potentially be sharing with their partners.

Changing the status quo

The revised bill hopes to change this status quo by making paternity leave nontransferable. The logic is that if paternal leave is not sharable to the same extent it is now, parents—particularly fathers—will be encouraged to shoulder an equal burden of the childcare in their households and will also be in a stronger position to negotiate with their employers about taking their full allotted leave time.

Another significant change to the current law would be that parents would have a shorter timeframe in which to exercise their right to take parental leave—a year and a half instead of two. The aim of this change is to ensure that parents take their leave when their children are in the greatest need of their care, that is, from the time of their birth to when they are eligible for daycare.

The drafted bill also proposes that both parents have an independent right to two months’ leave in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth that takes place after 18 months’ pregancy.

Parental Leave Extended to Twelve Months

Yesterday, in its final session before Christmas, Parliament passed new legislation extending parental leave to twelve months. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir discussed the new law on Facebook, stating that it was a huge step forward for Icelandic families, and also an important step toward greater equality.

Christmas Break

Parliament convened for the final time before Christmas yesterday. During the final session, new legislation was passed extending parental leave from nine months to twelve. Following the session, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir briefly recounted the history of parental leave in Iceland on Facebook. Compared to other Nordic countries, Katrín wrote, Iceland adopted parental leave laws late and defined them narrowly, to begin with.

The parental leave laws that are in effect today were passed in 2000, wherein Parliament extended the leave from six months to nine in three phases: “Another twenty years passed without any extension, or until the time of our current government,” Katrín wrote.

For the past two years, the government has made changes to the parental leave system by increasing compensation on the one hand and by extending the leave with the new bill signed yesterday on the other. “Both of which are important steps in fighting child poverty and increasing the quality of life of families with children,” Katrín wrote.

A Brief History of Parental Leave

The history of parental leave in Iceland traces its origins to 1980. In that year, a new law guaranteed women a three-month maternity leave with six months’ worth of compensation. Mothers who worked from home were entitled to one-third of what working mothers received. In 1986, Parliament extended maternity leave to six months. The right of fathers to paternity leave was enacted in 1998. Otherwise, the parental leave system remained almost unchanged for twenty years, from 1980 to 1999, until the 2000 legislation that extended the leave to nine months.

Prime Minister Katrín Among World’s Most Influential Women

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is one of the 20 most influential women in the world, according to Australia’s CEO Magazine. The media outlet featured her in an list of “women around the world who have made their mark but continue to fight for the rights of their less fortunate sisters.” The article praises Katrín as a champion of women’s rights.

The magazine quotes an article on gender equality Katrín wrote for the World Economic Forum, where she emphasised the importance of well-funded, shared parental leave in addressing systematic gender discrimination. “If men are as likely to take a break from work to care for children, this structural discrimination diminishes,” Katrín wrote. “Many female politicians in Iceland would never have got where we are today if it wasn’t for childcare and parental leave. I am an excellent example of that.”

Katrín is in good company on the list, which also features Amal Clooney, Malala Yousafzai, and Melinda Gates, among others.

Iceland Lags Behind Nordics on Parental Leave

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Iceland lags behind the other Nordics on parental rights and parental leave, says Ingólfur V. Gíslason, a sociologist at the University of Iceland. RÚV reports that this is among the findings that Ingólfur and his research collaborator, sociology doctoral student Ásdís Arnalds, discussed in a radio interview on Rás 1.

Iceland is the only Nordic country in which parents are, for instance, left to come up with their own childcare solutions between the end of their paternity leave and when their child starts attending pre-school, at around two years old. This is a significant problem, says Ingólfur, which works against the equality-driven thinking that motivates parental leave laws.

A great deal of important data on the subject started being collected in 2001 by professor Guðný Eydal. One of Guðný’s projects was to survey parents whose first child was born in 1997.

“Parental leave laws took effect in 2000,” remarked Ásdís. “So we have data that applies to parents who had their first child before the laws took effect. The survey was repeated in 2007, then again in 2014, and we’ve just started administering the survey for the fourth time.”

‘Enormous Changes’ in Parental Participation Over a Short Time

Ásdís noted that she and Íngólfur had examined parental participation in the care of their children, as well as their participation in the labor market after the end of their parental leave.

For his part, Ingólfur said that what has had the most significant effect in this regard was when parental leave compensation shifted from flat rates to 80% of the parents’ typical wages. “The most obvious change is that parental cooperation—that’s to say, the number of parents that qualify as dividing [care-taking responsibilities] equally—has steadily grown throughout the time that we’ve been conducting these surveys.”

Ingólfur continued that when considering the data on the first three years of a child’s life, much has changed in the short period of time since the first group of parents (those whose first child was born in 1997) were surveyed. “On one hand, we have the lines that show that mothers are the main caretakers, and on the other the lines that show that this [caretaking] is equally divided. They never overlapped for these three years. Now, however, they have started to overlap when the child is ten or eleven months old. So we’ve seen enormous changes over these relatively few years. That fulfills, at least in large part, one of the primary goal of these laws, that is to say, to ensure that children are cared for by both of their parents.”

Ingólfur said that Icelandic fathers come across well in the survey conducted by the World Health Organization every few years. There is a question on the survey, for instance, in which young people are asked about how easy it is to come to their parents with personal problems. “There have Icelandic young people ranked their fathers considerably higher than they did the last time this was done—here we had young people who had enjoyed the full benefits of these changes, that Icelandic fathers topped world lists when it came to teenagers being able to approach them with personal problems. Icelandic mothers have always been at the top, but fathers have now got there, too.”

Parental Leave Shorter in Iceland Than Any Other Nordic Country

Ásdís said that data shows that mothers in Iceland are spending an increasing amount of time at home with their children in order to bridge the childcare gap between when shared parental leave ends and preschool begins. Fathers took less leave time after a ceiling was set on leave pay in 2004, and then even less following the financial crash in 2008. Around that same time, mothers began spending more time at home with their kids and on partial leave, for instance by stretching a six-month leave payment across a twelve-month period in order to reduce the amount of time that the child spent in paid, private childcare with a day mother or father, says Ásdís.

In all of the other Nordic countries, children are either taken into preschool right after the end of paternal leave or parents are entitled to subsidies during the childcare gap. Ingólfur says it’s interesting that Iceland is now on the third majority government that has sought to extend parental leave, and yet, still nothing has been done on this issue.

Ingólfur co-authored a book entitled Parental Leave, Child Care and Gender Equality in the Nordic Countries in 2012. It’s available here, as a full-text .pdf, in English.