Japan prompts more civil servants to take paternity leave

Male government workers are taking child care leave in growing numbers following labor ministry campaign

JIJI

An increasing number of male national civil servants are taking child care leave as government agencies have promoted greater awareness of the entitlement among supervisory staff.

About 8.2 percent of eligible male workers at government agencies took child care leave in fiscal 2016, which ended last March, up 2.7 percentage points from the previous year.

Under the law, employees are entitled to take parental leave until their children reach age 1, and the leave can be extended up until age 2 under certain conditions.

The government has set a goal to lift the proportion of men taking child care leave to 13 percent by 2020 in both the public and private sectors.

“Above all, men, including myself, have to change our way of thinking,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Dec. 13 at an award ceremony for companies that worked on empowering female employees, stressing the need for men to be more involved in child-rearing.

Personnel officers at government agencies heard civil servants saying the work environment makes men hesitant to show willingness to take parental leave.

There was also concern that taking paternity leave may hurt employees’ chances of pay raises or promotions.

At the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, top officials, including the labor minister, have directly encouraged male staff whose children were born in the previous month, in the presence of their immediate bosses, to take child care leave.

Through a program started in May 2015, the ministry is leading a campaign to prompt eligible male workers to take paternity leave.

In late 2016, then-labor minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki declared himself an “iku-boss” (child-raising boss) — one who considers it a priority to create a work environment supportive of parental leave and work-life balance.

As a result, the percentage of labor ministry male workers who took child care leave in fiscal 2016 jumped 13.7 points to 40.9 percent.

Last September, the ministry revised its personnel assessment system for supervisory staff by adding an item on evaluating improvements at the workplace to allow more male workers to take child care leave.

The Finance Ministry marked the highest number of male staff who took parental leave among all government agencies in fiscal 2016, at 420, with the proportion coming to 24.3 percent.

If eligible male staff fail to take paternity leave, the ministry obliges managers to submit reports to explain the reasons.

The National Personnel Authority has introduced support measures for those who take child care leave, including full bonus payments for workers taking leave for no longer than a month.

Including employees from private companies in the figures, the proportion of male workers who took child care leave in fiscal 2016 was lower at 3.2 percent.

The gap raises a new challenge for the government as it aims to lift the proportion in both the public and private sectors.

“With the public sector taking the lead, civil servants may be under fire for receiving preferential treatment,” an official of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs said.