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Japan pushes male public servants to take longer paternity leave

JIJI

The government will encourage its eligible male personnel to use child-rearing leave for at least a month in principle, starting in fiscal 2020.

Although the number of government employees taking paternity leave has been increasing, the period booked is shorter than a month in most cases. To encourage them to take longer leave, the government will introduce an evaluation system to give high ratings to workers in managerial positions who actively support subordinates taking such leave.

Child care leave is available to government employees until their children turn 3 years old. In fiscal 2018, 12.4 percent of eligible male employees took paternity leave, a record high and close to the government target of boosting the rate to 13 percent in 2020.

The rate of workers taking paternity level has continued to rise since the start of the survey in 2004.

But the length of leave remains short. Among workers who used the leave system in 2018, 68.7 percent, the largest share, took up to a month off. This was followed by 14.5 percent who did so for more than a month but not more than three months, and 7.1 percent for more than three months but fewer than six. The average length of child-rearing leave taken by female government employees was 15 months.

Male workers are reluctant to take paternity leave due to concerns about the effects on their work and an unfavorable atmosphere in the workplace.

A survey by the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs found that male workers do not use the leave system due to a drop in income and concern about readjustments after returning to work. Many pointed to the difficulty of gaining understanding from their superiors and colleagues about taking long leave.

The new evaluation system will set out superiors’ responsibilities. For example, they must explain the importance of paternity leave to subordinates before childbirth and persuade them to take leave of at least one month within the year after childbirth in principle.

To help subordinates feel relaxed about taking long leave, superiors need to work out leave plans that reflect the aims of workers. Superiors also need to make efforts to secure replacements if necessary through talks with personnel affairs departments.

The new system will favor superiors who faithfully follow such requirements in order to create a workplace environment that is friendly to paternity leave.

The government will encourage male workers to take leave in hopes of creating ripple effects at local governments and private companies, where paternity leave has been taken less frequently. The rate of male workers who utilized such leave in fiscal 2018 came to 6.2 percent at private companies and 5.6 percent at local governments.

In January, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi called on prefectural governors and municipal mayors to increase the use of the paternity leave systems by workers. In the first letter of its kind, Takaichi stressed the importance of leadership by governors and mayors in encouraging male workers to utilize child care leave, as demonstrated by local governments including in the city of Chiba, where the rate of eligible male workers using its system stands at 65.7 percent.

“Paternity leave has drawn strong public attention since Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi’s remark” suggesting his readiness to take leave, before his wife gave birth to a baby boy in January, a senior official at the personnel bureau said. “We hope paternity leave will be taken for granted socially as a result of the government’s efforts.”

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