WHEN Newcastle solicitor Tom Hunter-Leahy became a father for the second time in June, he received two weeks' full pay in paternity leave.
One of only four men in the 30-strong team at Catherine Henry Lawyers, he is grateful to his employer for affording "quality time" with both his children: "Particularly the second time around, when my wife really needed me there," he says.
Mr Hunter-Leahy is among the community cohort calling for a review of the federal government's paid parental leave (PPL) scheme. It allows the primary carer 18-weeks' leave in contrast with two weeks for fathers or secondary carers.
A recent Australian Institute of Family Studies report by Parents at Work founder Emma Walsh reveals the use of parental leave by dads in Australia is very low by global standards. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures (2017) show only one in 20 fathers take primary parental leave, with "most" organisations provide limited parental leave or secondary carers, "if any at all".
The report says the lack of legislated "shared parental leave", adherence to traditional gender roles and the gender pay gap were preventing many dads from taking parental leave.
Mr Hunter-Leahy says the current PPL status enforces traditional gender roles, undermines equality and and limits the choices of 'secondary carers', often creating "turmoil" for families.
"It forces their hand to make hard decisions on how they will cope financially," he says, adding that research shows that healthy life-work balance is directly proportionate to productivity and morale.
"It's actually equally important for a father to be around ... and I hate the term 'secondary caregiver' - it promotes inequality and by the same token devalues what a mother is doing at home."
He believes a more flexible approach for men would at once give women more options in their return to work, but also allow partners to be around for mums who might need more support.
"I am a feminist. If I am saying that men should have equal rights to leave, it is because that would better support women as well," he says.
National engineering consultancy firm GHD, which has a Newcastle office, has seen the percentage of males taking primary carer parental leave rise from 5 per cent in 2015 to 28 per cent in the past 12 months. In the same period, the per centage of women taking primary carer parental leave fell from 95 per cent to 72 per cent.
Phil Pigram, GHD's Newcastle-based regional general manager (Northern NSW) said GHD offered 12 weeks' paid leave for the primary caregiver and five days paid leave for the secondary caregiver. It also offered 12 weeks of paid leave when the secondary caregiver becomes a primary caregiver within one year of birth or adoption of a child.
"We've seen, and encourage, an increase in males taking leave as a primary caregiver while their partner returns to work," he said.
"We understand that working parents need flexible and responsive support to make their transition back to work easier. Our people are encouraged to have an open dialogue about flexible working with their manager."
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