Maternity Leave Practices: The Numbers
One hundred and seventy eight countries guarantee some paid maternity leave under national law and 101 countries require 14 weeks or more of paid leave for new mothers. The average time new mothers worldwide can take off with pay after giving birth is 18 weeks. Three countries do not have a nationwide laws guaranteeing new mothers any paid time off following the birth of a child—Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States. (Human Rights Watch, 2011)
Now for some specifics by country: the following table provides maternity leave information for countries that represent the majority of our readership. Next to each country we report the number of weeks of maternity leave mothers can qualify for and the % income that the mother receives during that time.
The United States
As noted above, the United States is one of only 3 countries not offering paid leave at the national level. Some families in the US qualify for job-protected, unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a program that sets minimum standards for parental leave in the United States. However, about 40% of U.S. workers are not eligible for FMLA because employees of small companies (fewer than 50employees) and short-term workers (must be with current employer at least 1 year and must have met a requirement for minimum hours worked) are not included. (Ray 2008) Only about 11% of American employees have the option of taking paid medical leave with only 2 states, California and New Jersey, offering paid leave.
In California, income replacement is available to workers that pay into State Disability Insurance (SDI) through the SDI program and the Paid Family Leave Act (PFLA). There are no additional requirements such as number of hours worked for an employer or size of company. However, those that are self-employed or earn less than $300 per year do not qualify to receive SDI. For more about who qualifies, visit the following website: http://www.las-elc.org/help-leaves.html
In New Jersey, the New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law provides up to 6-weeks of cash benefits to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child. There are three plans: a state plan, a private plan and an unemployment plan. For more information, click here.
Australia’s New Laws
There are two programs in Australia that provide paid leave to new parents. First, the Australian Government announced a new paid Parental Leave program for Australian families just this month. The program offers 18 weeks of Parental Leave, paid at the National Minimum Wage, for parents of children born or adopted after January 1st, 2011. Only the “primary carer” of the child is eligible for the program, and it is noted that this is usually the mother. Other special circumstances will be considered on a case by case basis. Secondly, there is a Baby Bonus available to all workers with an adjusted taxable income of less than or equal to $75,000. A first installment of $879.77 is paid to parents initially followed by approximately $379.77every 2 weeks for 12 weeks.) If parents qualify for the Baby Bonus, they cannot receive both the bonus and parental leave; they must choose one of the two. For more information, click here.
Norway: The Most Family-Friendly Laws Worldwide
Parental leave laws in Norway provide 42 weeks at 100% pay or 52 weeks at 80% pay and the mother and father can choose to share the leave period with a few stipulations: 3 weeks before delivery and 6 weeks after delivery are reserved for the mother and 4 weeks are reserved for the father. The rest of the leave can be used by either parent. Norway tops the list of family-friendly places to live providing 4 weeks paid paternity leave starting in 1993. Only 2.4% of Norwegian fathers took leave in 1992, but by 1997, over 70% of fathers took paternity leave. Each parent is also entitled to up to 1 year of unpaid leave per child, and this is extended to up to 2 years for a single parent. (ILO study, Gender Equality and Decent Work: Good Practices at the Workplace) Other countries are stepping up to the plate to provide parental leave for fathers too. Currently 31 countries require 14 weeks or more of paid leave for new fathers. (Human Rights Watch, 2011)
Most Scandinavian countries also offer other progressive ideas such as "daddy leave," guaranteed rights to childcare, and cash payments for home-based care.
Importance of Family Leave Laws
Countries that have parental leave programs show increased productivity, reduced turnover of employees, and even health care savings. Paid parental leave laws enable more parents to stay home and care for their infants during a vital time in their infants’ growth and development and supports parents that want to return to the workforce following this time. As we look into the future, we hope that soon parents everywhere will be supported by leave laws so that they can spend the precious newborn period and beyond with their babies while maintaining their employment.
References & Resources:
Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality. By: Rebecca Ray, Janet C. Gornick and John Schmitt (September 2008). http://www.scribd.com/doc/5427460/Parental-Leave-Policies-in-21-Countries-Assessing-Generosity-and-Gender-Equality
Gender Equality and Decent Work: Good Practices at the Workplace. Maternity Protection International Labour Organization Convention No. 183, 2004.
MATERNITY AT WORK: A review of national legislation Findings from the ILO Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws. 2nd edition, 2010.
Failing Its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the US, Human Rights Watch, 2011.