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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student


British, German governments explore parental leave policies

As part of a year-long series of articles examining women in the 21st century, the International Herald Tribune newspaper recently featured working mothers in Germany, discussing different social and economic pressures that German mothers face as part of both modern society and the workforce.

In the article, journalist Katrin Bennhold made note of the new policies that arose as a result of the work of Ursula von der Leyen, family minister during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first term in office.

Under von der Leyen, a number of changes took place, the most interesting of which is what Bennhold calls her “signature measure,” the idea of Elterngeld, or “parent money.”

This incentive offers an opportunity for mothers and fathers to actually share up to 14 months of paid parental leave.

There’s a twist that makes things even more interesting – if the father does not opt to take at least two of the months of “paternal leave,” the couple will only be paid by the government for 12 months.

This new policy has lead to an 18 percent increase in fathers who take paternal leave, changing the way that we look at the parents’ roles in child raising.

While Germany is not the only European country offering such policies, it seems to be part of a trend in policies aimed at sharing benefits for parents of newborn children.
Just last week, British government officials announced a similar plan for a law that will allow fathers to take up to six months of paternity leave, making it possible for mothers to return to work sooner than before.

More specifically, this will give fathers the legal right to a three-month paid paternity leave at the end of the mother’s nine-month maternity break, effectively replacing the mother at home and allowing the woman to return to work.

After the three months, fathers will be allowed an additional three months of unpaid paternity leave, providing families with newborns a total of 12 months leave from work.
The changes are expected to apply to families bearing children beginning in April 2011. However, such changes do not come without controversy.

On the one hand, the British Chambers of Commerce argue the additional measure adds unnecessary pressure to businesses in a difficult economic time, especially when paired with seven other measures that have been proposed during the past year regarding regulation of business that lead to additional costs.

On the other hand, the proposed changes have received applause from groups like the Fawcett Society and Equality Minister Harriet Harmen. Even Business Minister Peter McFadden supports the changes.

“The balance between work and family life has changed for the better in the past decade, and these changes will give parents the chance to share their leave and will give families a useful element of flexibility and choice,” he told a Daily Telegraph reporter.

While only time will tell whether the measures hinder businesses in England with the addition of regulation, it is certain the measure is one of many up-and-coming pieces of legislation worldwide that continue to change the way we view the role of parents in modern society and the workforce.

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