The government on Tuesday said it is opposed to a proposal for extending paternity leave and benefits to unmarried couples as that would have an unpredictable cost impact on the Social Insurance Fund (SIF).
The House labour committee was discussing a bill tabled by main opposition Akel, which provides that paid paternity leave is broadened to include those couples who have children out of wedlock or who did not enter into a civil partnership before childbirth.
Akel argues that paternity should not be defined as the father being in a marriage or civil partnership, and that therefore the law as it stands – excluding these two categories from the right to paternity leave – is discriminatory.
The labour ministry’s response is that the law granting paternity leave, passed earlier this year, was based on precise calculations of the cost from granting this benefit to couples who married in church, or had a civil marriage or who have entered into a civil partnership.
To also entitle people who are unmarried or not in a civil partnership would inflate the cost to the SIF, the ministry’s permanent secretary Andreas Assiotis said.
Moreover, experience from single-parent families has shown that it is difficult to check whether couples actually live together in order to assess whether the father is in fact part of the family and part of the process of raising the child.
According to Assiotis, there are many cases of couples where the father acknowledges paternity but does not live with the mother and child.
He said the objective of the various benefits-related laws that are in force is to calculate a family’s or partnership’s joint income and assets to assess applicants’ eligibility.
Responding, Akel MP Andreas Fakondis spoke of a double standard, in that an unmarried mother is entitled to maternity leave, whereas an unmarried father is not.
He also argued that the government is contradicting itself, because where child benefit and Guaranteed Minimum Income are concerned, in reviewing an application the government takes into account the incomes of the two partners as a whole.
“Therefore, both the ministry and the state recognise the cohabitation of two persons even if they are not married or have not entered into a civil partnership,” he noted.
He also dismissed the ministry’s claim that it would be difficult to check whether a couple actually lives under the same roof.
The House committee will be revisiting the matter at a subsequent session.