Spain in the world top in parental leave equality

by Lorraine Williamson
paternal leave

MADRID – As of 2021, Spain is among the countries with the most equivalent parental leave in the world. This equates to 16 weeks for both the mother and the father. Research shows how Spanish men have taken this equivalent, non-transferable, and paid leave. 

According to the latest available data (January to June), 89% of fathers took paternal leave immediately after the birth. This was without any breaks and at the same time as the mother. However, only one in ten (11%) alternated with the partner to take care of the baby alone. Social Security shared these figures with the Ppina platform for equal leave. 

New regulation 

Since January 1, all workers, regardless of gender, have had the same number of weeks´ leave (for birth or adoption). The rule obliges both parents to take a minimum of six weeks’ leave immediately after giving birth. The remaining ten weeks can be taken at once or in parts. In the majority of cases, however, parents take leave at the same time. But when they do split up, it is the case that mothers take leave first (for breastfeeding). And a small proportion of men take care of the baby alone afterward. 

Recent studies 

The most recent studies on equal and non-transferable paternity leave show that ‘men do not take the weeks as fully as women. Still, the fathers’ work situation outweighs that of the mothers and determines the final decision on the distribution of this care time, explains Teresa Jurado, a sociologist at UNED, the Spanish Open University. 

Jurado, who is also co-spokesperson of the Ppina platform for equal leave, explains that the current system has brought progress, but also pitfalls that stand in the way of co-responsibility. For example, the fact that workers must obtain permission from the company to split their leave and the requirement for both to take six weeks’ leave after giving birth. This period is too long, she argues. 

Fathers may not ‘disconnect’ 

Between 2019 and 2020, 75% of fathers used their paternal leave weeks continuously and simultaneously with the mother. A percentage that rose to 89% in the first half of 2021. According to Jurado’s most recent research, there are companies that, by extending to 16 weeks, are forcing employees to take part-time leave so that they do not ‘disconnect’ completely from their work. This situation applied to 12% of fathers, four times more than for mothers (3.5%).  

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What is the biggest obstacle course? 

Jurado stresses that the biggest problem is the ‘obstacle course’ faced by the worker who chooses to take split leave. And she regrets that this is so difficult because, in her opinion, it is proven that “fathers’ paternal leave, which does not coincide with the mother’s leave, contributes to an essential learning process for the father. He is then really responsible for the care and more than just ‘the assistant’ of the mother.  

According to Jurado, simultaneous leave makes it more difficult for fathers to take on the responsibility of caring for their children later. And a family can save more if one parent takes care of the child. 

No or limited use of leave  

The figures also show that a “not insignificant percentage of women and men (more than 5% in both cases)” have not taken a single week of leave. Moreover, almost 20% of mothers and more than 40% of fathers did not use all the weeks allowed by law between 2016 and 2021. 

Waste 

Jurado considers it ‘wasteful’ to make it mandatory to take six weeks of simultaneous leave immediately after giving birth. Two weeks would suffice, she believes, because the time in which the baby is cared for at home by one of the parents could be extended from the current maximum of 26 weeks to 30 weeks. It is precisely for this reason that Ppina has requested an amendment to the law that removes these obstacles. The wish is that the obligatory 6 weeks after the birth are shortened and that the employee, usually the male parent, does not have to negotiate with his employer about the distribution of the leave. 

What is in the coalition agreement? 

What the association is asking for is included in point 7.1 of the coalition agreement between PSOE and Unidas Podemos. At her last meeting with the Ministry of Equality, Jurado’s disappointment was great. The department led by Minister Irene Montero does not prioritise the commitment to equal, paid and consecutive leave, but instead prioritises the extension of maternity leave to 6 months. 

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