Dads and Childcare – A trade union issue

Cost and Access issues make a childcare crisis for Dads which hurts us all

The All Party Parliamentary  Group on Fatherhood (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/fatherhood.htm ) relaunches today with strong support  from Working With Men (www.workingwithmen.org). So  it is a good time to  reconsider the role of dads in childcare.

This is undoubtedly a trade union issue: Many  unions’ rulebooks contain an explicit commitment to challenging and eradicating discrimination. Union involvement can and does achieve better-than-statutory  provision.  And also because of the impact on women of uneven access to and take up of childcare by men. And finally because the statutory  framework  for childcare doesn’t address  problems of  affordability and eligibility.

However, we always need to remember that parenthood does not solely consist of a two parent heterosexual situation, and acknowledge that men need to be careful not to be seen as “muscling in”  on  an area of predominantly  female influence in a world where male chauvinism is still widely prevalent.

But hang on, you might say: Is there really much more to negotiate?

Because there has been significant improvement in statutory provision: 52  weeks Maternity leave, 2 weeks  paid Paternity Leave, 39 weeks Statutory Maternity Pay, 52 weeks Parental Leave, Shared Parental Leave and Pay since 2015, and expanded Unpaid Parental Leave. (https://worksmart.org.uk/work-rights/family-friendly-work)  This is in addition to the Gender Equality Duty to make all parents the best parents they can be (http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/equality-act-codes-practice )

We see that 53% of working fathers drop their kids off at school and amongst younger parents,  more  men  do this than women (68%  young (18-35) fathers to 61% young mothers ).  There has been a 10 fold increase in fathers regularly looking after their children in last 10 years. (http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/the-modern-families-index)

Moreover, 52.2% employers offer in excess of the statutory requirement and there is a clear Union premium as 66% of negotiated Paternity Leave agreements were in excess of statutory levels in 2009.  That rose to 76% in 2014

Clearly trade union input has had a beneficial result. And men feature prominently in childcare campaigns, such as the CWU’s recent, efforts to keep open a workplace nursery (http://www.cwu.org/news/archive/mount-pleasant-nursery-saved.html ).  But before we get carried away, there is still plenty to do.

For example :

Shared Parental Leave & Pay since 2015 has had low take up: 40% of working fathers with a child under 1 are ineligible. And the TUC want 6, not 2 weeks, paid Paternity Leave. Fathers’ requests  for flexible working are more likely than mothers’ to be turned down. UK Statutory Paternity  Pay is 25% of full time male median  wage and 50% of fathers do not take their 2 weeks –  rising to 75% for those on lower income. (https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/work-life-balance/employment-rights/two-five-new-fathers-won%E2%80%99t-qualify-shared )

The Gender Equality Duty has a very low take up and 36% of fathers fake sickness to meet family commitments.  44% lied to employer to meet family commitments and despite that 10 fold increase in fathers regularly looking after their children in last 10 years, still only 10% full-time carers are men and 85% of couples have the father as higher wage earner. (http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/the-modern-families-index )

Although 52.2% employers offer in excess of the statutory requirements, this is skewed to public sector and larger employers. Less than 20% of employers received a request for Additional Paternity Leave and those who use it are more in the public than private sector (although the private  sector is more likely to have an enhanced provision – Paternity pay and leave: XpertHR survey 2014 (www.xperthr.co.uk/survey-analysis/paternity-pay-and-leave-experthr-survey-2014)


So current provision falls a long way short of good benchmarks – like, for example,  Denmark: there parents have the right to a total of 52 weeks leave with maternity subsistence allowance. The mother is entitled to four weeks’ maternity leave prior to giving birth and 14 weeks after; the father is entitled to two weeks’ leave after the birth; and remaining time can be divided according to individual wishes. Public sector employees receive full salary during maternity leave and private sector employees are entitled to a minimum level of maternity benefit, which is subject to negotiation with the employer. Parents who are not entitled to paid maternity leave from their workplace can receive maternity maintenance from their municipal office in their place of residence. (http://europa.eu/epic/countries/denmark/index_en.htm )

This isn’t about who changes the dirty nappies. No-one likes doing that.  It is a question of what we are going to about this fundamentally unfair and dysfunctional situation. The TUC, RCM and CWU collaborated in organising  a successful fringe event  at Congress this year (http://www.cwu.org/news/archive/cwu-at-tuc-2015-day-3.html ). We work closely  with  academics and  other campaigners.  NUT do some excellent work on gender stereotyping (https://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12981 ).  These things already feature on our bargaining agenda – but we must make the links across unions and  sectors. The new WorkCareShare initiative (http://www.workcareshare.com/ )  is a significant step towards this.

The ability of fathers to engage in childcare is inseparable from the ability of mothers to exercise proper choices – and neither should determined ‎by luck or chance. But it is also a contribution and catalyst to further changes in society on greater gender equality across the caring spectrum,  and the mainstreaming of good, shared, childcare arrangements as a critical factor for industrial and economic success.

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