Parental leave must be split up
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 legis- lation 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 during 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.