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Senior Japanese politician takes paternity leave in first for country

23 January 2020

Shinjirō Koizumi, Japan’s environment minister, is taking two weeks’ paternity leave following the birth of his son on 17 January 2020. It is the first time a Japanese cabinet minister has taken paternity leave, or at least publically announced an intention to do so.

The two weeks leave will be taken over a period of three months on the condition that it will not affect his parliamentary and cabinet duties. Koizumi is also expected to work remotely and have shortened days over the leave period.

A top spokesman from the Japanese government has given his support to Koizumi, saying it is “important to create a conducive workplace atmosphere and social acceptance and support for men to ask for and take parental leave”.

The Japanese government is concerned about the country’s aging population and falling birthrate and is trying to encourage more fathers to take paternity leave, with the idea that if fathers are more involved in parenting, families might choose to have more children.

Compared to most other countries, including the UK, new fathers in Japan enjoy generous paternity leave by law. Both parents can take up to a year off on partial pay. This is automatically extended until the child is one and a half years old if the parents are unable to secure a nursery place, and then for a further six months on request if the child is still unable to attend nursery. In the UK, fathers qualify for two weeks’ paid paternity leave. In addition, since 2014 the UK has had a system of shared parental leave. Shared parental leave depends upon the mother “giving up” some maternity leave so that the untaken leave can be designated as “shared parental leave”. The parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave, and 37 weeks of statutory pay between them.

However, in both Japan and the UK the uptake of paternity leave is low. Just six per cent of fathers take parental leave in Japan, compared with the eighty per cent of mothers who use more than the mandatory first eight weeks of their allowance.  Of those men who do take any parental leave; over seventy per cent take less than two weeks. In the UK, approximately a third of fathers use their ordinary paternity leave, however uptake of the shared parental leave scheme stands as low as one per cent.

In the UK, financial reasons might lie behind the low uptake of shared parental leave, as the statutory rate of pay is low and employers are less likely to enhance pay for shared parental leave than they are for maternity leave. Social and cultural expectations might also play a part, as in Japan where there is a culture of long working hours and traditional gender roles.

Koizumi has acknowledged that taking paternity leave is an unusual, and controversial, step, stating: “this is the first time for a minister to take paternity leave, and whenever you do something unprecedented, criticism is always inherent.” Clearly aiming to lead by example, he added “unless we change the atmosphere, government employees presumably won’t start taking paternity leave. I hope there will be a day when lawmakers’ paternity leave is no longer news.” 

Some men in Japan have sued their employers, alleging they have suffered what is known as “pata-hara”, short for paternity harassment, after taking parental leave. If more Japanese employees do follow Koizumi’s example and request paternity leave, their requests should be met with kindness and understanding by employers. This is important to avoid “pata-hara” claims. But perhaps more significantly, encouraging fathers to share in the burdens of parenting might play a small part in improving the declining birthrate in Japan and tackling the problem of an ageing population. 



日本の男性政治家、初の育児休暇を取得

小泉環境相は、2020117日の息子の誕生から2週間の育児休暇を取得している。日本の男性閣僚が育児休暇を取得する、少なくともその旨を公式に表明したのは初めてである。

小泉氏は、国会及び内閣の業務に支障をきたさない条件で、3カ月のうち2週間の休暇を取得する予定だ。なお、育児休暇期間中は在宅勤務による時間短縮もあり得る。

菅官房長官は、「職場風土や社会機運の醸成し、男性が育児休暇を取得しやすいよう支援することが重要」として、小泉氏を支持している。

日本政府は少子高齢化を懸念しており、父親が育児に参加することで家族がより多くの子どもを持つかもしれないとの考えから、父親が育児休暇取得を推奨している。

英国を含む他国と比較すると、日本では父親にとって寛容な育児休暇が法律で定められている。両親は、産後1年間は有償の休暇を取得できる。保育園に入園できない場合には子どもが1年半になるまで、更に入園が叶わない場合には最大子供が2歳になるまで育児休暇を延長できる。英国では、父親には2週間の有給育児休暇が認められている。加えて、2014年から共有育児休暇(shared parental leave)の制度がある。母親が育児休暇の残りを無駄にすることが無いよう、両親が共有休暇として取得することが認められたものだ。両親は、最大50週間の休暇及び37週間分の法定手当を共有することができる。

しかしながら、日本・英国ともに、男性の育児休暇取得率は低い。日本では、母親の80%が産後休暇(出産後8週間)以上の育児休暇を取得している一方で、父親の取得率はわずか6%であり、うち70%以上の取得期間は2週間未満である。英国では、30%の男性が育児休暇を取得しているが、共有育児休暇取得率は1%にも満たない。

英国における共有育児休暇取得率の低さは、共有育児休暇の法定手当が低く、また雇用主も出産休暇に比べて共有育児休暇の手当てを引き上げる可能性が低いという、経済的な理由に拠るかもしれない。(改善傾向にはあるが)長時間労働や伝統的な性別役割分担という文化のある日本のように、社会的及び文化的な背景も一因となっているのではないか。

小泉氏は、父親の育児休暇取得は異例であり議論を呼んでいることを認めたうえで、「大臣が育児休暇を取得するのは今回が初めてであり、前例のないことを行う際は必ず批判が付きまとうものだ」と述べた。模範を示すことを明確に目的として、「風土を変えなければ公務員は育児休暇を取得しないだろう。国会議員の育児休暇がニュースにならなくなる日が来ることを願う。」とも付け加えた。

日本では、育児休業を取得後にいわゆる「パタハラ」を受けたとして雇用主を訴えた男性従業員もいる。日本人従業員が小泉氏の例にならって育児休暇を申請するならば、雇用主は彼らの要求を親切かつ理解をもって取り扱うべきである。これは、「パタハラ」の主張を避けるために重要だ。しかし、より重要なことは、父親が子育てを分担することで、日本の少子化を改善し、高齢化問題に取り組む上で小さな役割を果たすかもしれないということである。

 

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