Government on the spot with parental leave

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 07/04/2012

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National is likely to come under intense pressure to support extending paid parental leave to six months.

Labour MP Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill has been drawn from the ballot and may have the numbers without National.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne has campaigned on extending paid parental leave to 12 months, and most other political parties, except ACT, are likely to support the bill. That will leave National in a tight spot if it chooses to vote against the family-friendly legislation.

The bill would increase paid parental leave by four weeks a year to 26 weeks in 2014, almost double the current 14 weeks.

The issue is a contentious one, with New Zealand lagging behind other OECD countries.

In 2007, the Families Commission recommended paid parental leave provisions be increased to 13 months by 2015, including a month for fathers.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the increase was "simply unaffordable".

"On first glance, the bill would add about $150 million a year to the cost of paid parental leave – money that would need to be borrowed from overseas."

The Government supported parents being able to look after their new families but was concerned about the financial implications, she said.

Ms Moroney said Labour would like to see paid parental leave at 12 months, which several OECD countries had already achieved.

"It's time that we actually got serious in New Zealand for actually putting children first, and I think this will be a real test of all political parties about whether they just pay lip service to supporting families or not."

The bill would allow parents to spend quality time with their newborn babies, mothers to breastfeed easier for longer and allow time for bonding and "getting the basics right".

New Zealand used to do quite well in this area but now even Australia had leapfrogged us and had an 18-week provision, Ms Moroney said.

About 26,000 families access paid parental leave each year.

New Zealand adopted the scheme in 2002.

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- The Dominion Post

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