A bill giving fathers eight days paternity leave after the birth of a baby was approved by the ministerial committee on legislation last week. It will now go to the Knesset.
However, the eight days provided for in the bill will come at the expense of the father’s annual leave (three days) and sick leave (five days.)
Currently, employers are not obligated to give men vacation days after a birth, though couples can divide up the mother’s maternity leave between themselves.
In many cases, men cannot afford to take unpaid leave or their employers do not approve days off – meaning new fathers have to go back to work while their partner and their baby have not yet been released from hospital.
“This shows that we are moving towards the norm of equal parenting and in effect it ends the dichotomy between fathers who work and mothers who take care of the children,” says Shai Peled, 43, of Tel Aviv, who is married to Rotem and is the father of three children: Yonatan (7), Mika (4) and Ori (8 months.)
Peled, who works at a public relations firm, is among the few men who have taken advantage of the existing law. He and his wife split her maternity leave and he took two months of parenting leave. “The workplace is obligated to give this, but every organization has the ability to cause it not to happen,” he says.
“Sometimes fathers have had to go back to work on the very day of the birth, still wearing the hospital bracelet,” relates Daniel Harush, spokesman for the Jewish National Fund and volunteer head of Kulanu Mishpakha (We Are All Family,) an organization that advocates for young families.
“That is terrible, in my view,” he adds. “A week is not enough, so to go back to work after just one day seems to me to be nearly inhumane.”
Nevertheless, Harush says that he returned to work a week after his baby was born, not because he was asked to but rather out of guilt. “Even if no one said anything, there’s the expectation that you’ll be back to work.
“On the day I had to go back to work after the first birth, I really felt like I was abandoning them,” he adds. “Today I also know that this creates distance from the child. I think that the Western world already understands the need for partnership between the two parents during the first period.”
Though Harush is pleased with the proposed law, he believes that some things in it should be amended. Under the law, the state is not required to fund any of the days off. “Having children is part of the Jewish and Zionist ethos,” he says. “But from the moment the child is born the state pretty much disappears.”
Statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development support this claim. The average leave for fathers after a birth in the OECD states is 4.2 weeks. In addition, some of the OECD countries give women longer paid leave than Israel does.
Gil Maor of Kibbutz Dan works in a small business that employs six workers, in addition to himself. When his son was born, he decided not to leave his wife Dafna alone after she had Caesarean section. “We decided that I would stay with Dafna as much as possible and it turned out that I was with her for 10 days, which is six work days.”
Maor points out another problem with the law: Its implications for small businesses. “The state isn’t doing anything except approve the days off you already have, which are paid for by the employer and the employee,” he says. “When the parenting leave falls on the employer and the employee, it misses the point.”
He notes that, with respect to sick leave, the employee doesn’t even get paid for the first day off and the second and third days are considered half days, so that in any case he loses two work days.
Moran Meshal, head of the women’s desk at Independents for Change, an organization that advocates for the rights of the self-employed in Israel, also says that the law misses the point because it does not apply to all the workers in the economy. “It relates to the population of working fathers, on condition that they are salaried employees. The problem is that the law perpetuates many years of legislative discrimination against the self-employed,” she says. This discrimination also affects self-employed mothers.
The Paternity Leave Amendment to the Women’s Work Law, proposed by Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) and MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset three years ago, but its progress was halted. Zandberg, who raised the proposal again in the current Knesset, acknowledged in a conversation with Haaretz that the work is far from over.
“I am not kidding myself into thinking that all is well, not even in this small area of parenting leave,” she says. Zandberg notes that because the proposal came form the opposition it took a great deal of effort to advance it. “This is what we have managed to do for now,” she says. “I am not one of those people who say that if it isn’t perfect we won’t do it. We will achieve what is possible and keep going forward.”
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