Parental leave must be split up

The Southland Times - - NEWS - STACEY KIRK

The Gov­ern­ment in­tends to block moves from Na­tional that would amend its paid parental leave ex­ten­sion so both par­ents of a new­born could take leave to­gether.

Such a change could be detrimental to the baby, says Labour; If both par­ents were off at the same time, that would be a short­ened to­tal time spent on leave with that child, said Work­place Re­la­tions and Safety Min­is­ter Iain LeesGal­loway.

But Na­tional spokes­woman for work­place re­la­tions and safety Amy Adams said her amend­ment was about flex­i­bil­ity and let­ting fam­i­lies choose what was right for them.

‘‘This is the Labour gov­ern­ments of old, go­ing back to the nanny state of telling fam­i­lies how to ar­range their lives. The pro­posal we’re talk­ing about would sim­ply al­low fam­i­lies to choose – not take any com­pul­sion – but to choose if they wanted to take some, or all of the leave to­gether.’’

The Gov­ern­ment is push­ing through leg­is­la­tion under ur­gency, to in­crease parental leave en­ti­tle­ments from 18 weeks to 22 weeks from July 1, 2018, ex­tend­ing fur­ther to 26 weeks from July 1, 2020. The pro­posed law will by­pass se­lect com­mit­tee pro­cesses, but was to be opened up for po­ten­tial changes in Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day afternoon be­fore its third and fi­nal read­ing later this week.

Lees-Gal­loway said: ‘‘Our con­cern with that is the like­li­hood it would re­duce the amount of time that baby has to bond with their pri­mary care­giver. The whole pur­pose of paid parental leave is to pro­vide space for the baby and their pri­mary care­giver to bond, be­cause we know that at­tach­ment be­tween the baby and the pri­mary care­giver is one of the most im­por­tant things for the baby’s de­vel­op­ment.’’

Lees Gal­loway said he was not op­posed to look­ing at changes to flex­i­bil­ity rules fur­ther down the track, but the Gov­ern­ment had not seen the amend­ment Na­tional was pre­par­ing to put for­ward.

Adams said giv­ing fam­i­lies greater flex­i­bil­ity in tak­ing that leave would be a sig­nif­i­cant help with no ex­tra cost. It was a pol­icy Na­tional also cam­paigned on dur- ing the elec­tion cam­paign.

‘‘Peo­ple who have had twins or pre­ma­ture ba­bies, or peo­ple who have had older sib­lings. And ac­tu­ally what they need most at that time is an op­por­tu­nity for both part­ners to be to­gether for a short pe­riod of time to bond and to work with each other,’’ she said.

‘‘Labour are of course dic­tat­ing that they know what’s best for fam­i­lies and it will be a very rigid ‘one par­ent at a time may take leave’. And for all of their grand words about sup­port­ing young fam­i­lies and young ba­bies and their abil­ity to bond with them, I can’t see any rea­son why they would block that flex­i­bil­ity be­ing avail­able to par­ents,’’ she said.

The amend­ment did not ex­tend the cost of Labour’s pol­icy and it did not ex­tend the to­tal amount of time par­ents had avail­able to them.

Adams said she could see no real rea­son why Labour would be op­posed to giv­ing new fam­i­lies greater flex­i­bil­ity.

‘‘It seems to me they’re em­bar­rassed that they rushed this bill and there was no need to do it. This has been their pol­icy for a long time and they still haven’t prop­erly turned their mind to some of the im­por­tant is­sues, like how paid parental leave works and how it can be made more flex­i­ble.

‘‘I think they are aware they have been caught out by not hav­ing the se­lect com­mit­tee process, dis­pens­ing with it, when ac­tu­ally there was plenty of time; the bill doesn’t take ef­fect un­til July 1, next year.’’

Labour was be­ing ‘‘dog­matic’’ in re­fus­ing to bend to a Na­tional Party amend­ment. The leg­is­la­tion be­ing put through Par­lia­ment was the same Labour bill which gained a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity de­spite Na­tional Gov­ern­ment op­po­si­tion to it dur­ing the last term. For­mer Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill English used his fi­nan­cial veto at the last hur­dle, say­ing the pol­icy was un­af­ford­able then.

Lees-Gal­loway said Labour would be sup­port­ing a sec­ond amend­ment from Na­tional MP Sarah Dowie how­ever, to al­low ‘‘keep­ing in touch hours’’ for par­ents on paid parental leave. It would es­sen­tially al­low par­ents to con­tinue work­ing a small amount of hours, while on paid parental leave, with no penalty to their leave en­ti­tle­ments.

Iain Lees-Gal­loway

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