A (paid) break for fathers in Spain

On June 18 the Spanish parliament will rubber-stamp a new law extending paternity leave from the present 13 uninterrupted days to four weeks. This still falls short of leave for new fathers in European Union countries like Sweden, where a man whose partner has given birth is entitled to share the 16 months’ leave available to both parents. Meanwhile, to equality campaigners’ disgust, UK plans to extend fathers’ paid leave from two weeks to six months were temporarily shelved last week after the government decided that the present economic downturn was not a good moment to introduce the new legislation.

Despite its own economic plight, Spain’s modest two-week break is to be increased to a month earlier than was originally contemplated. When the Equality Law was passed in March 2007 it was, and still is, deliberately weighted in some respects – domestic violence, for instance – to benefit women. In other areas it cuts both ways and by 2007 it was considered that men had the right to paternity leave instead of having to use their own paid holiday allowance or relying on the understanding and co-operation of employers for time off.

Under the Equality Law, men were immediately granted two weeks’ leave which could be taken during the 16 weeks of a partner’s maternity leave or immediately after. Legislation over the coming six years was intended to gradually increase the leave to a month but at the end of 2008 the centre-right Catalan nationalist party Convergencia i Unio proposed in the national parliament in Madrid that the date should be brought forward. This, said CiU, would give men the right to involve themselves more fully in the care of their children.

After next week’s formalities, which have the backing of all parliamentary groups, the full month will be available from January 1, 2011.

CiU spokeswoman Merce Pigem last week praised the government for agreeing to fix a definite date when the economic outlook was so gloomy, as paternity leave is entirely financed by the Social Security system. It is precisely because of the recession that the new extended leave will not apply until 2011 when, in the words of MP Maria Isabel Lopez, there should be ‘more breathing space’.

Paternity leave is a new concept in a country where it previously consisted of an exiguous two days and not all men are claiming it.

Statistics reveal differing attitudes towards hands-on fatherhood in different regions, so in 2008 29,478 men in the Valencian Community took advantage of the new law and 6,966 have already claimed paternity leave in the first three months of this year.

It is in Cataluña where most new fathers exercised their right to stay home after a new addition to the family and with 15,894 women on maternity leave between January and March, 13,524 Catalan men took paternity leave between these dates.

There were 16,174 women on maternity leave in Andalucia during the same period – more than in any other Spanish region – but only 11,194 men took leave. New Basque fathers were more involved, with 4,379 births and 3,882 fathers taking leave although in the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla there were applications from only 74 and 52 fathers respectively.

Paternity leave costs the government 212,222,511 euros last year, an increase of 71.78 per cent, and this figure will rise in 2009.

But with one of the lowest birth rates in the EU, any measure designed to make parenthood less problematic is an investment for Spain’s future.


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