“Dad, take a month off too” Extension of maternity leave period for spouses, policy effectiveness ‘not good’

Party and government push for significant extension of spouse's maternity leave from '2 weeks to 1 month'
Consider providing incentives to companies that introduce maternity leave and to co-workers on leave
Does your salary decrease if you take maternity leave? There are still limits to dreaming of revitalizing the system

The government and ruling party are pushing for a plan to extend the period of maternity leave for spouses. The plan is to increase the spousal maternity leave period, which is currently up to 10 days, to 1 month to encourage men’s participation in child care and reduce barriers to childbirth and childcare. It is reported that the party and government are discussing ways to announce the policy as a work-family balance measure at the plenary meeting of the Low Birth Rate Committee chaired by President Yoon Seok-yeol next month and to specify it as a key pledge of the People Power Party’s general election. 

Up to 30 days of maternity leave for spouses, corporate incentives are also considered

According to the ‘Act on Equal Employment Opportunity for Men and Women and Support for Work-Family Balance’ (Equal Employment Act for Men and Women), the current spouse’s maternity leave period is up to 10 days. If you divide it into 5 days, you can have up to 2 weeks off, including weekends. In the future, the party and government plan to increase the period of spousal maternity leave to more than 20 days and add the number of installments to allow up to one month of paid leave. In order to establish the system, it was also decided to consider a plan to compensate for some of the costs incurred by spouses while they are on maternity leave. This is a method of providing incentives to companies that hire temporary workers and department employees who must shoulder the existing work of vacationers.

We are also planning a plan to provide incentives to companies that actively respond to low birth rates. Currently, it is reported that a plan is being considered to provide tax benefits to small and medium-sized businesses that specify childcare-friendly work arrangements, such as childcare leave and flexible working hours, in their employment rules. Parental leave is a legally guaranteed worker’s right, but many small and medium-sized companies do not include it in their employment rules, making the system less effective.

It was also decided to encourage the introduction of ‘hybrid work’, which combines commuting to the office and working from home. This is a measure that refers to Japan’s low birth rate policy, which requires employees with children under the age of three to work from home if they volunteer. The Low Birth Rate and Aging Society Committee expects that the introduction of the hybrid work system will not only lower the hurdle for workers to raise children, but will also benefit companies, such as reducing office maintenance costs and reducing employee resignation rates.

Even if I extend the period, I can’t use it? Limitations of maternity leave

The reason the party and government significantly extended the period of maternity leave for spouses was because they judged that ‘men’s participation in childcare’ would have a positive impact on solving the low birth rate problem. The goal is to create a child-rearing-friendly environment by encouraging men to actively participate in childbirth and childcare. However, some point out that it will be difficult to revitalize the spousal maternity leave system as long as there are disadvantages such as career loss and income reduction during the leave period.

The maximum maternity leave benefit limit is 1.5 million won. This means that if a man who takes maternity leave is responsible for the livelihood, he may find himself in a difficult situation due to a sharp decrease in income. Companies also cannot welcome spouses’ use of maternity leave. This is because, unlike childcare leave where leave benefits are provided by the employment insurance fund, the employer pays the costs. In particular, for small and medium-sized businesses where each person’s role is critical and their financial situation is tight, the blow is bound to be severe. This is also the reason why the maternity leave system has been activated mainly in the government, public institutions, and large companies.

Korea is not a country where maternity leave can be used freely. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s ‘2020 Work-Family Balance Survey’, as many as 30.0% of companies responded that ‘spouse cannot use maternity leave at all.’ 24.2% of the responses said, ‘It is possible to use it, but it is not fully used due to the workplace atmosphere and difficulty in securing replacement personnel.’ More than half of women are having difficulty using maternity leave. Accordingly, some point out that an ‘environment’ in which spouses can comfortably use maternity leave must first be created before recklessly extending the period of maternity leave.

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