Increasing the amount of child-care leave taken by men will help create a social environment more conducive to child-rearing.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has started discussions highly likely to result in raising the child-care benefits paid through employment insurance.
The anticipated change is designed to increase the number of working men who take child-care leave. Fewer than 2 percent do so now.
The ministry plans to submit a bill to revise the Employment Insurance Law to the ordinary Diet session next year.
Under the current system, a working couple is able to take child-care leave, in principle, until their baby is 14 months old if the leave is taken by only one parent at a time. A parent taking leave is entitled to receive benefits worth 50 percent of the wages earned before taking the leave.
The government is likely to raise the child-care leave benefit to 67 percent of wages for at least the first six-month period for each parent.
For example, if a new mother takes two months of maternity leave after giving birth, followed by child-care leave for six months, and then her husband takes child-care leave for the next six months, the couple would be assured of a full year of child-care benefits worth 67 percent of the wages of whichever parent was taking leave at the time.
The government hopes that by boosting such economic assistance, the child-care leave taken by men will increase.
Yet there is also a sense of unwillingness in business circles.
While the central government pays for a little under 7 percent of the child-care leave benefit, the rest is to be covered by insurance for which employers and employees pay equally. Therefore, the increase in the benefit is likely to raise the financial burden on both labor and management.
It is also unlikely that a hike in child-care leave benefits alone will be sufficient to increase the amount of child-care leave taken by men.
An opinion survey taken by the ministry found that men most often cited “workplace atmosphere” as a reason for not taking child-care leave.
If more working men were to take child-care leave, even for a very short period, it would give mental support to working women. We think it important for businesses to understand this well and to start creating environments in which men feel it is easier to take their child-care leave.
At leading consumer products maker Kao Corp., winner of the grand prize of the “Ikumen Company Award 2013,” the rate of men taking child-rearing leave has been hovering in the 35-40 percent range in recent years. (”Ikumen” is a recently coined word for fathers who actively take part in raising children.)
The company has established a system of giving its male employees fully paid child-care leave for up to five days. It encourages them to take the leave more actively by holding seminars. Although the average period of child-care leave taken by male employees is only 11 days, the company said its employees’ attitudes have been changing.
Since earlier this year, the Tokyo Stock Exchange has selected listed companies that excel at utilizing women, calling these companies “Nadeshiko issues” and recommending their stock to potential investors. The rate of male workers taking child-care leave is one yardstick for the TSE’s selection.
Hiroshima Prefecture Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki provided another positive example with his announcement that he was taking child-care leave himself, apparently pushing up the rate of men taking such leave at companies in the prefecture to 7 percent.
Measures to deal with the low birth rate are a matter of urgency.
Both the public and private sectors need to consider ways to broadly support child-rearing, including the child-care leave taken by men.