After several years of careful consideration, in September, Emmanuel Macron announced that as of July 2021, paternity leave would be doubled. Fathers will receive 28 days of paid paternity leave, an increase from 14, including same-sex couples. The decision reflects the European Commission’s ambitious decision last year that required E.U. member states to extend their parental leave to four months by 2022.
“When a child comes into the world, there is no reason why it should be just the mother who takes care of it,” points out the French President. Today only 67% of fathers allow themselves to take paternity leave of 12 days, while mothers must take ten weeks off by law. Amongst fathers, 80% of those on long-term employment contracts go on paternity leave, while only 47% of those on temporary contracts do so. These figures reveal a disparity amongst fathers rooted in working environments. Employers place pressure on short-term contract employees that imitate the Japanese pata-hara father harassment. In Japan, only 6% of fathers dare to receive paternity leave, and only a handful have sued their employers for their abysmal lack of consideration around the issue. In such a fragile system, is the new French policy expected to transform the situation magically?
The new policy is no magic trick but a key to opening up modern mentalities. Doubling the paternity leave is a small but promising step towards gender equality, the improvement of child development, and fathers’ opportunity to take a more active role in unpaid childcare duties. The distribution of tasks in a couple is different today; according to the neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik “before, entrepreneurs used to say ‘you’re not the one giving the breast’ and mothers would ask ‘what are men doing in our maternity area?’ Now, we can no longer reason in the same way .” Most of all, he adds that “modernity is not a protective factor for pregnant women” when evaluating all the long-term negative repercussions a short paternity leave has on women’s health and career. Research shows that if a mother is alone, she increases her likelihood of depression before and after childbirth. Also, maternity leave has a tremendous impact on women’s careers. Indeed, as childcare responsibilities drop exclusively on mothers, their overwhelmed daily grind depresses their wages. Mainly, a prolonged absence away from the workplace inevitably deprives them of experience and promotions. Finally, the consequence of prolonged paternity leave is priceless for educational matters as “the family system that best protects a child is the one with multiple attachments,” reveals Cyrulnik.
Despite its progressive policies, France realizes it lags behind its European neighbours and wants to extend the leave further. Finland has a paternity leave of 9 weeks, and Portugal allows up to 5 weeks of paternity leave. At the French Parliament, the immediate goal is to extend the current paternity leave to 12 weeks, 8 of which would be compulsory. Introducing the concept of “childcare leave” when proposing policy N.3290, Guillaume Chiche and other deputies hatched a plan. It wants to replace the existing parental leave with better pay but shorter periods than the two to three years currently in place on top of maternity leave, with potentially another obligation for fathers to take time off. In an attempt to lift spirits, Hélène Périvier, an economist at the French Economic Observatory, highlights the differences of French culture surrounding the subject, affirming that, for example, the will to wedge the French model on the Nordic model is a mistake. In France, women “have advantages that it would be a shame to give up, for example, the possibility for a woman to resume her professional activity more quickly by leaving the child in the nursery, while in Iceland the educational standard is to keep her child with her for a year.” Proud of the outstanding position of France in that dimension, she declares that “a country, where parents can entrust their children early enough to the nursery, and that is socially accepted, […] is quite unique in Europe.” Subsequently, talking about the shortage of spots in nurseries for young infants, she then declares that unfortunately “parental leave remains too long […] it is especially very poorly paid, very poorly compensated – around a third of the minimum wage […] There is a real work site to open”. So who is preventing the obtaining of a building permit to start the construction works?
Needless to say that not every employer is thrilled to see each father receive a mandatory paid week of paternity leave. Patrick Martin, the deputy president of the French CBI, Medef, states that they “regret in principle all that is mandatory [and] prefer that the staggering can be done at the initiative of the employee”. According to the board, this is the only way for the employee to maintain his position, at the acceptable cost of leaving the mother a more important charge regarding the child’s reception. Martin also declared that he “did not understand very well why this important and positive measure is being announced now” amid the economic crisis linked to Covid-19. But Bianca Brienza and Manuela Spinelli, the co-founders of the Parents & Féministes association, justify the reaction of Patrick Martin by stating that “bosses, often older, may have trouble understanding why fathers would take a leave.” On the contrary, a third of those under 35 are in favour of making the right to this extended paternity leave compulsory for all workers, according to the barometer of the DREES – the statistical service of social ministries.
The measure costs the state about €250m to €260m in the first year, rising to more than €500m from the year after. Martin also adds it would cost €300m to firms as 60% of companies already contribute to family allowances and that the public Sécurité Sociale does not repay the entirety of the wage. Some heads of SMEs claim to be the principal victims of this decision, as their scheme does not financially permit an employee’s prolonged absence. They affirm that the government “applies indiscriminately, throughout the whole territory, measures tested in a laboratory that is the one of big business.”
Perhaps, they ignore that an expected and planned absence could give way in the short-term to future workers for them to acquire work experience and raise firms’ margins. Indeed, this would open an opportunity to develop fixed-term contracts for the supervision of short-run jobs. The labour market would observe back and forth movements that would intensify the diversification of skills for many workers and permit firms to create human resource services work. Rotation in the world of work is particularly beneficial when it is normalized, legalized and enforced with regulations as it ensures a constant forward-looking behaviour from employers. When recruiting trainees to cover a maternity or paternity leave, anticipation will cost nothing. On the contrary, it will bring more people in and give them concrete prospects about future career opportunities, just a way to improve expectations in the demand and supply sectors. Those employers who do not ratify the Parental Act can still decide not to respect the policy’s implementation but will face a fine of €7,500.
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