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How could Austria make paternity leave more attractive for fathers?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
How could Austria make paternity leave more attractive for fathers?
A father walks with three kids in a park (Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash )

Austrian parents can split their parental leave, but most fathers don't take time to stay at home to care for their children. Why is that, and what could be done to help more dads to take leave?

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The number of dads in Austria receiving childcare allowance, meaning they were taking a break from work to care for their children, had been continuously rising until 2017, when 15,095 men took advantage of their parental leave rights.

Since then however, the share of fathers receiving the parental benefit has decreased from 20.5 percent to 16.7 percent, according to the latest Chamber of Labour (AK) research

Can the drop be explained?

"The pandemic has revived the old role patterns," believes Eva-Maria Burger, Head of the Women and Families Department at the AK.

For example during the pandemic it was predominantly women who stayed home to look after children when kindergartens and schools closed.

In 82 percent of couples in Austria, only the woman takes parental leave, and the father does not use his right to parental leave or childcare allowance. Those fathers who do take parental leave also predominantly only take two months. Fathers taking longer periods of paternity leave are still the great exception, the report showed.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about parental leave in Austria

But even before the pandemic led to fewer men taking parental leave, the Chamber of Labour believes that the introduction of the "family time bonus", a payment given to fathers who take the month off immediately after the birth of a child, was also affecting fathers. They believe the fact that dads started taking one month off early on led to them not taking any further childcare later.

Especially given that companies often pressured men not to take any leave at all, the AK claimed.

"Fathers want modern parenthood. However, companies rarely allow men to combine family and career. Companies are only family-friendly if they are father- and mother-friendly", said Burger.

The AK brought to light several instances of companies pressuring or punishing fathers who took time to be with their families.

In one case, an employee who always performs impeccably at work, winning awards, announced he would take one month off (the Papamonat). He was then later and suddenly accused of "poor performance". These examples highlight the challenges fathers face in balancing work and family responsibilities and the need for a more supportive work environment.

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What can be done about this?

The AK presented a six-point plan to increase men's participation in parental leave, aiming to reach closer to the "half-half" mark of partners equally dividing their rights to childcare leave.

Firstly, the chamber called on the government to increase awareness of people's rights, conducting a true information campaign about the right to split leave and the financial incentives to do so. Companies should also have to give advice and help manage parental leave for men once a pregnancy or Papamonat is announced.

READ ALSO: The tax benefits that parents and families receive in Austria

Additionally, the chamber advocates a higher "minimum share" for fathers, meaning fathers would legally have to spend more time at home for the couple to be entitled to the full two years of parental leave. Currently, if parents want to stay in the so-called Karenz for the entire 24 months they are entitled to, one of the parents needs to stay for at least two months on leave.

The incentive for more paternal leave could also be financially increased by doubling the partnership bonus - so parents who split at least 60:40 would receive €2,000. Also, the AK suggests rewarding those who can split parental leave equally with their partners by supplementing the childcare allowance by €350 per month per parent.

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Why is it important to split parental leave more equally?

The chamber's research highlights the importance of a more equal division in parental leave, showing that it dramatically improves women's chances of returning to work. 

"In the long term, it pays off for everyone," said the AK head of Women And Family Eva-Maria Burger: "For the whole family, it is safer to rely on two full incomes. For the economy and the welfare state, more women will be in the workforce, and for the individual companies, they can retain employees better if they allow men to be family men and workers."

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