Parental leave in Denmark: Government wants ‘most choice possible’ for families

Labour and employment organisations in Denmark have proposed an updated model for parental leave, which complies with an EU directive on the area. Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash
Denmark’s government says it is opposed in principle to controlling parental leave through legislation, but praised a recent proposal to tag set amounts of leave to each parent.

Employment minister Peter Hummelgaard said on Friday that, despite the government’s reluctance to legislate on the area, an EU directive requirement means it will seek to agree a deal giving as much choice as possible for families.

Hummelgaard’s comments came following initial talks between parliamentary parties over reforms to Denmark’s parental leave system.

READ ALSO: Parental leave: How new agreement could change rules in Denmark

“In the government we are of the opinion that we must try to make the best of things and do this in a way that provides as much flexibility as possible for individual families,” Hummelgaard said in comments reported by news wire Ritzau.

The minister also took a swipe at the European Union, saying the government did not want “something pulled down over its head on the part of the EU”.

A preferable arrangement would be for labour organisations – trade unions and employer representatives – to negotiate parental leave terms, Hummelgaard said.

“But we are now faced with implementing this, so our goal is to make the best of it and ensure it brings as much equality with it as possible,” he said.

The EU directive in question requires mothers and fathers to each have at least nine weeks of so-called “earmarked” parental leave, meaning the two parents cannot transfer the leave from one to another.

An agreement announced last week between the Danish Trade Union Confederation (Fagbevægelsens Hovedorganisation, FH) and Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) would set parental leave in Denmark at 11 weeks for both the mother and father or second parent.

Under the proposal formed by that agreement, the mother has a right to four weeks’ pregnancy leave prior to giving birth and both parents can take two weeks’ leave immediately after the birth.

That leaves a remaining earmarked 9 weeks, which can be taken at any time but are tagged to each parent, as are the initial 2 post-birth weeks. If one parent does not use all of their 11 weeks, those weeks lapse.

The proposal complies with the EU’s parental leave directive.

Hummelgaard expressed his backing for the agreement.

“We think the labour market organisations have put forward a very balanced and thorough proposal, which both falls in with what the directive demands and makes it as easy as possible for parents to arrange parental leave the way they want,” he said.

The proposal has elicited a divided response since its announcement last week, with backers saying they promote equality and critics saying they interfere with childcare decisions in the private sphere.

Conservative parties are largely opposed to earmarking leave for each parent, meaning that parties on the left will likely be required to vote through any bill to implement it.

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