Parental leave change won't help those who really need it - Chen

Mai Chen, constitutional lawyer and co-founder of Chen Palmer.
Mai Chen, constitutional lawyer and co-founder of Chen Palmer.

An extra few weeks of inadequate paid parental leave won't really help the families who need it most, says lawyer Mai Chen.

The Budget announced a plan to increase the period of government-funded parental leave from 14 weeks to 18. The change would take place in stages, with a two-week increase from April 2015 followed by a further two weeks in April 2016.

The Government made no change to the amount of support, which stands at $488.17 a week. The leave extension would cost an extra $172 million, the Government said.

Chen, founding partner of public and employment law specialist Chen Palmer and a mother of one, said the overall Budget for paid parental leave should be directed to those who needed it most, through means testing.

"It isn't the number of weeks it's the amount we get paid," she said.

"Ultimately you have to have enough to be able to stay off work for the number of weeks it takes.

"If it's another two weeks we're talking about another what, $900. Is that the difference between having a baby or not?"

If the policy aimed to provide real support, "the question is whether 14 weeks at below-minimum wage is really adequate assistance, and is that really much bettered by 16, 18 or 20 weeks?"

Phil O'Reilly of lobby group Business NZ said businesses were likely to be comfortable with the changes.

"Broadly speaking employers will be supportive," he said.

"We've always been supportive of extensions, subject to affordability."

The plan to phase in the change indicated the cost would be manageable, he said.

Extending eligibility beyond mums and dads was also a sensible move.

The main issue employers tended to have with parental leave was a lack of clarity around how long employees intended to stay away from work, because the companies had to make arrangements to cover for the absence.

But he said that was not really an issue for government policy.