The battle for baby benefits
Leave for some new parents to be bumped to 18 months
Bringing home a new bundle of joy comes with a lot of benefits: Sleepless nights, spit-up, baby cuddles and, for most, 12 months of partially paid leave.
Starting next month, some workers will have the option to stretch out their benefits over 18 months. It’s popular with parents; less so with businesses. And it puts Canada near the top of the pack when it comes to family leave.
Here’s how we compare.
Under the current Employment Insurance (EI) system, birth mothers get 15 weeks of maternity leave, plus an additional 35 weeks of parental leave to split between parents however they like. In both cases, parents can get 55 per cent of their usual earnings, up to a maximum of $543 per week — but only if they qualify for EI. Many people who haven’t worked enough hours or who have opted out of EI because they’re self-employed can’t access the benefit. Right now, these benefits can be collected up to one year after baby’s birth. Starting Dec. 3, some parents will have the option to spread them out over 18 months instead. The changes only apply to employees in federally regulated sectors such as public service, telecommunications and banking. Ontario plans to offer the extension to all workers. Other provinces have yet to follow suit. Quebec has its own system, with up to 55 weeks of partially paid leave, as well as three to five weeks of “use it or lose it,” nontransferable paternity leave for fathers.
The U.S. catches a lot of flack for being the only economically developed country with no nationally paid maternity or parental leave. There are 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave for public servants and workers at larger companies. Some states offer six weeks of disability pay to mothers during late pregnancy, birth and recovery. A few states step in with paid family leave after the disability payments run out, but even the best, California and New Jersey, offer just six weeks.
There’s a reason this Scandinavian nation has a reputation as a parents’ paradise. It offers 480 days of parental leave. For 390 of those days, parents get 80 per cent of their previous pay, up to about $4,500 CDN per month. Of the total, 90 days are specifically reserved for mothers and 90 days for fathers. They can split the rest as they see fit.
Sweden’s policy for parents may seem sweet, but Estonia’s is downright utopian. Moms get 140 days of maternity leave at 100 per cent of their previous pay (if they weren’t working before, they get minimum wage). Dads get 10 days at the same rate, and then one parent gets to take leave and collect a childcare allowance until their child turns three. It’s also worth 100 per cent of their previous average earnings, up to a generous cap of $4,319 CDN per month.
twelve per cent of Canadian dads outside Quebec claim at least some paid parental leave, as per Statistics Canada.