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Parental (leave) advisory

Jakarta Post Editorial - March 23, 2024

Jakarta – Last week, the government announced a plan to extend statutory paternity leave in a draft implementing regulation for the State Civil Apparatus (ASN) Law, recently passed to bring sweeping changes to the recruitment and welfare of state employees.

That and the promise of a deliberation on paternity leave in a proposed bill on maternal and child welfare (KIA) offer hope that the gender gap in the labor force can be meaningfully narrowed.

And while we applaud any plan to extend parental leave, we should hope this new development does not distract from other issues in the ASN Law, especially a rule under consideration that would allow the Indonesian Military (TNI) to creep back into civilian life.

That said, the arguments for more paternity leave are largely sound. It gives working fathers an opportunity to bond with their newborn, support their recuperating wife, develop critical parenting skills and brace themselves for the inevitable onset of sleep deprivation.

This becomes even more important in the case of paid leave, as it would encourage fathers to take on more responsibility in raising children without having to worry about the impact on their career.

From the way it is codified in Indonesian law, however, paternity leave is still generally regarded as a formality observed as a consequence of wage obligations or, worse, a gender-normative taboo.

According to the 2003 Manpower Law, employers are obliged to pay two days of wages for workers who take time off to accompany their wives in childbirth or miscarriage bereavement.

That is a sorry excuse for paternity leave and sends a strong message regarding the role of women and men in parenthood. Meanwhile, Southeast Asian neighbors Myanmar and Singapore have two weeks of legally mandated paternity leave, even though the region as a whole still underperforms in that policy landscape.

Two days is nothing compared to provisions in the same law for female employees, who are entitled to three months of maternity leave or half that in the case of a pregnancy loss. That's still below the International Labor Organization's (ILO) prescribed 14-week parental leave.

New fathers working in public service may fare better because of a National Civil Service Agency (BKN) mechanism that allows them to take up to 30 days of paternal leave with proof from a care facility. This could be bumped up to 40 days if the new rules are progressive.

While data on access to parental leave is scarce and there are clearly other factors at play, the lack of paid leave is likely one reason why Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Abdullah Azwar Anas says that Indonesian fathers typically return to full-time work five days after the birth of their child.

It takes a village to raise a child, and we'd all be better off if fathers put more time and effort into parenthood, especially in the crucial early post-natal stages.

The recent air travel fiasco involving sleep-deprived pilots may have helped convince people of the importance of ensuring adequate rest and family time, but paternity leave is still seen as more of a perk than a right.

Instead, it should be a universal basic right to be enjoyed by all new parents, not just civil servants. In an age where the nuclear family is increasingly made up of dual breadwinners, we should be devising rules that cut across public-private, formal-informal and male-female divides.

Beyond the labor cost implications or the fear of more mid-pregnancy contract terminations and – God forbid – deadbeat dads, adequate parental leave is a right we should all be able to take for granted.

And if our policymakers are sincerely invested, there should be no need for pilot projects or a long wait, as the president could instate such a regulation as soon as tomorrow.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/03/23/parental-leave-advisory.htm