Dad and Partner Pay: Implications for policy-makers and practitioners
Based on the literature detailed in previous sections, four key findings have been identified:
- there are four conditions that increase fathers' uptake of leave;
- government policies do impact on choices families can make around work and care;
- the impact of paternity leave is greater if the leave is flexible and available over a long period of time (e.g., until a child reaches school age); and
- legislated and government-funded paternity leave increases accessibility.
Four conditions increase fathers' uptake of leave
The experience of other countries has shown that if governments provide well-compensated, flexible, parent-specific (mother or father or shared) and publicly promoted parental leave, uptake by fathers will increase. Australia's Dad and Partner Pay is partly flexible (it must be taken in a 2-week block but can be taken any time in the first 12 months after a child is born or adopted), parent-specific (an individual right) and publicly promoted (a communication campaign to raise awareness about the scheme commenced in October 2012),7 but it is set at a relatively low level of compensation (the national minimum wage). It well compensates fathers on low wages (at or below the national minimum wage) and better compensates those fathers who only have access to unpaid leave. While it provides only partial compensation for those fathers on higher wages, it is more likely they will already have access to employer-provided paid paternity leave and other paid leave.
Given that the main reason fathers provide for not taking leave at the time of a birth or adoption is that they cannot afford to (Hosking et al., 2010), improving access to better-compensated leave by employers along with better government financial support for working parents of newborn or adopted children should be considered in the future.
Policies do impact on choices families can make around work and care
Close attention should be paid to the way in which Australian parents would like to manage the care of their children and their unpaid and paid workloads. Parental leave (and other family leave policies) should help facilitate these choices. As Fox et al. (2009) described, for significant social change, there needs to be "vigorous and proactive policy-making that engages with fathers, mothers, employers, and the labour market" (p. 323).
The Henry Tax Review noted that workforce participation is strongly influenced by incentives in the tax and transfer systems and by the affordability of quality child care. Factors influencing the return to work of mothers when children are younger include: financial considerations such as remuneration and child care costs; the quality and availability of child care; labour market and job conditions; and the views parents have on raising young children. In particular, partnered mothers and single parents are quite sensitive to the impact of taxes, transfer withdrawal rates and the level of transfer payments in deciding whether to undertake paid work (Australian Government, 2009).
The impact of paternity leave is greater if the leave is flexible and available over a long period of time
Fletcher (2008) highlighted the impact fathers can have in caring for their children, stating that: "fathers are now seen as being vitally important in the way that children develop" (p. 3). However, several authors have found that short periods of leave taken by fathers at the time of a child's birth may not lead to increased father involvement because of limited opportunities to practice routine child care tasks. While short leave periods provide fathers with valuable time with their newborns, their quick rush back to work can undermine any intentions to be heavily involved in child care (Hosking et al., 2010; Miller, 2010). The extent to which fathers are accessible to their child, particularly in time spent in the sole care of their child, is a more comprehensive indicator of fathers' levels of involvement in child care (Hosking et al., 2010).
Gornick and Meyers' (2009) framework called for 6 months of family leave with wage replacement for men (as well as women), with leave allotments able to be taken for a period of 8 years. As Coltrane (2009) stated: "If male leave-taking becomes normative, fathers will use their time to attend school conferences, performances and other activities as their children mature" (pp. 404-405). Longer-term leave entitlements in Australia would give parents greater choice in the management of child care and work.
Legislated and government-funded paternity leave increases accessibility
Government-funded financial support to complement paternity leave enables more universal access to paternity leave. Employer-funded paternity leave is taken by approximately 14% of Australian fathers (Hosking et al., 2010). Addressing this disparity would help to focus on the issue identified by O'Brien (2009), which is that varied access to paid paternity leave "raises the possibility of a new polarisation for infants: being born into either a parental-leave-rich or -poor household and, indeed, country" (p. 190). Dad and Partner Pay will give most working fathers at all socio-economic levels and in all forms of employment greater opportunities to spend time with their children.
7 Currently information on Dad and Partner Pay is available through printed materials (such as brochures) and online via the Department of Human Services website <www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/centrelink/dad-and-partner-pay>.