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Single dads left out of paternity leave benefit

TWO weeks into its introduction, cracks have appeared in a new law that affords some benefits to fathers as part of paternity leave, with state officials defending the provisions of the law and social groups saying the new law does not go far enough, while single fathers are left out of the picture altogether.

A senior government official defended on Friday the provision of the law which stipulates that only married men or those who have a co-habitation agreement are eligible for the paternity leave benefit.

Following media reports of scores of complaints from unmarried fathers who found that they did not qualify for the paternity leave and of general confusion as to who is a beneficiary, the permanent secretary of the labour ministry, Andreas Assiotis, said that it is very clear on the application forms that the benefit allowance concerns only married fathers.

“It is an allowance paid by the social insurance fund. All such allowances concern married couples,” Assiotis told the Cyprus Mail.

He added that the labour ministry had not received any official complaints concerning the paternity leave so far. The new law, which was passed by parliament last month and kicked off on August 1, allows working fathers of newborns to file for 15 days of paid paternity leave.

The office of the Commissioner for Gender Equality, that contributed to drafting the bill, said that they would review the law, to see if it could include single fathers.

“Our focus was the best interest of the child. The bill is aimed at the best possible care of the child and that the father should be present in this procedure during the first days of the life of a newborn,” official of the commissioner’s office, Andri Savva said.

The 15 days’ leave allowance is a stepping stone toward that direction, she said.

“We will examine this, assess it and see how to include this category of fathers, given that all criteria should ensure the best interest of the child,” Savva said.

The paid paternity leave must be used during the 16 weeks that maternity leave is in effect. The two weeks fathers take as leave will be deducted from the 16 weeks of their spouses’ maternity leave, meaning that a mother of a newborn will take a 14-week maternity leave so that her husband can take his paternity leave.

Paternity leave is payable for two consecutive weeks and the social insurance fund will pay 72 per cent of the applicant’s weekly salary. Applicants must present, among others, the baby’s birth certificate, as well as certificates of marriage or of a co-habitation agreement. Eligible to apply are fathers who have paid up contributions to the social insurance fund.

For the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (Migs), the paternity leave is a positive step, but not a substantive one.

“It is inadequate, it covers a very small gap, and it is very short (15 days) compared to other countries,” policy coordinator at Migs, Josie Christodoulou told the Cyprus Mail. She added that in other countries, paternity leave is combined with other support measures.

“It does not cover real needs. What is it that the government wanted to cover? Which needs?” she asked. “It’s a start, but perhaps we should rethink which needs we want to address”.

Maria Angeli, also of Migs, said that the findings of a survey carried out by the institute indicated that there is lack of support for couples with newborns and for the elderly.

But the paternity leave is also dependent on the financial background of each family, Christodoulou said. She added that according to statistics, after child birth, the work hours of fathers are increased, while those of the mothers are decreased.

She added that there are a number of factors that need to be examined for a comprehensive policy to assist families with newborns.

According to new father Eftychios Savvides, what’s important is the ability of the couple to choose how many of the 16 weeks each could use.

“This decision gives me the right to switch two weeks of my wife’s maternity leave for me to use and look after our child,” he said. “I want the right to have more weeks; if she needs only two weeks after giving birth and then she feels ready to go back to work, why should she get the whole 14 weeks, and me just two?” he asked.

There are women, he said, who would rather get back to work sooner than those four months expire, so their husbands could take over the care of the baby during the remaining time.

“The decision as to how the leave would be shared ought to lie with the couple and their doctor and not the parliament and the government,” Savvides said.

The paternity leave proposal, which aimed at eliminating discrimination by offering fathers paid leave, had been tabled by socialist Edek.

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