It’s Mat Leave Monday! While those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are freezing, it’s the height of summer in New Zealand. So today, I am talking about maternity leave in the Land of the Long White Cloud. As ever, I have no first-hand knowledge about maternity and parental leave in New Zealand. Although I would love to visit, I have never set foot there. If you are actually in New Zealand, the best reference I could find is the government’s parental leave page.
As a Canadian, and particularly a British Columbian, I have always felt a certain kinship with New Zealand. We are both small countries, which are often wrongly associated or equated with our much larger cousins (with the larger cousins being the US or Australia, of course). Although we are well aware of the differences, nobody else seems to care. But more than that, many people compare British Columbia and New Zealand in terms of temperate climate, and beautiful scenery. Here are a couple of videos to compare for yourselves:
Anyhow, back to the subject at hand. Unlike Australia, New Zealand does offer national, government-paid maternity leave to new parents. Both employees and self-employed people may apply. You must have worked an average of 10 hours / week or more for the same employer, with a minimum of 1 hour in any given week and 40 hours in any given month, for at least 6 months. Parental benefits are paid for 14 weeks, and may start up to 6 weeks before your expected due date. You are paid your full weekly salary up to a maximum of $407.36 NZD (roughly equivalent to $278 CAD or $223 USD).
Those who meet the minimum hour requirements for 12 months may apply for an extended leave of up to 52 weeks, but the remaining 38 weeks are unpaid. Adoptive parents are eligible for the same benefits as birth parents. Partners are entitled to up to two weeks additional unpaid paternity leave, and they also may share all or part of the parental leave, provided that they also meet the minimum hours test. Finally, birth mothers also receive 10 days of special leave during their pregnancy, for medical appointments and the like.
Paid parental leave was first introduced in New Zealand in 2002. At that time, parents received government-paid leave for up to 12 weeks. In 2004 that was extended to 2004, and some of the criteria were relaxed. And finally in 2006 paid leave was extended to the self-employed. Prior to the introduction of paid leave there was job protection for parents taking leave on the birth of a child, but no paid benefits.
It appears that there is ongoing work to improve New Zealand’s parental leave scheme. A report released by the Families Commission in 2007 recommended that the plan be expanded so that more women and families in a variety of work situations can receive benefits. They also recommended that paid leave be extended to up to 13 months. At the moment, most women in New Zealand return to work approximately 6 months after their babies are born, due to financial pressures. You can read more about the status of parental leave and work being undertaken to improve it here.
While New Zealand is clearly working to improve maternity leave, the more that I read about other country’s schemes, the more glad I am to live in Canada. Canadian maternity leave is really very good, as it turns out. Although I would still take January in New Zealand over January in Canada any day.