Minister to patch armed forces parental leave gap

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:01 04/12/2012

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Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says a legal loophole that means members of the armed forces are not eligible for parental leave is nonsensical and will be fixed. 

A loophole in New Zealand's paid parental leave system has left the Defence Force scrambling to make sure its personnel are not denied leave payments.

Defence is having to administer its own parental leave after it was discovered members of the armed forces were not eligible to receive payments under the law.

Parental leave is normally paid by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MOBIE) through the Inland Revenue Department, but a problem emerged recently when some personnel had their applications declined by the ministry.

Coleman said the cash-strapped defence force was footing the bill for the time being.

"These payments will come from within the NZDF operational budget although the understanding is that NZDF will be reimbursed for this.  

"Further advice is being prepared and worked through on the mechanics of how NZDF will be reimbursed,” he said.

"However since the anomaly was discovered the focus has been on ensuring no NZDF staff applying for paid parental leave will miss out," he said.

"Officials have agreed the interim solution is NZDF will directly pay the paid parental leave entitlements of any service personnel who are new applicants. 

Coleman said a legislative change may be required to fix the problem long-term.

It was discovered the Paid Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act only referred to paid parental leave for "employees", but NZDF spokeswoman Ally Clelland said members of the armed forces "were not technically employees" but "service personnel".

Civilian employees were not affected.

The loophole was unintended and government agencies had resolved the issue so Defence Force personnel would continue to be able to access paid parental leave as they have done for the last ten years.

Coleman said he was pleased government agencies had responded quickly.

"The intention has always been, and always will be, for NZDF staff to be entitled to paid parental leave just like other employees.

"I am advised that no one will miss out or face a loss of payment despite this anomaly being discovered."

"The only difference is new Defence Force applicants for paid parental leave will have their payment processed through a Defence Force scheme."

Under New Zealand law, paid parental leave is available to female employees who give birth to a child, or to either parent where a couple has assumed the care of a child under six they intend to jointly adopt.

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The Defence Force said the problem was picked up before anyone went on leave.

But a source, who did not wish to be named, said a number of women in the navy had been directly affected, and more were due to take leave in the coming month.

"For navy, there are at least three but that's just people I know of, and not sure for the other services. They discovered this about three weeks ago and still haven't done anything to help the ones directly affected right now.

"I know the legal department is working on it, but seems rather slow, especially for the ladies directly concerned."

Labour defence spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said it was "not ideal" defence were having to pay at all.

"Any additional costs would be unwelcome for a defence force which is under extreme financial pressure due to the constraints the Government has already placed on them.

"One more cost, such as this, won't be helping them."

Lees-Galloway said there was "no question" a legislative change was required.

"I would like to see the Government move forward with this by early next year.

"It's not something that is particularly onerous on parliament's time, but it's something we need to do to have defence personnel recognised as equal and entitled to the same entitlements under New Zealand law."

As of November 21, 66 women and five men in the Defence Force were on parental leave.

- Stuff

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