It’s been my first time being on maternity leave and I’m really enjoying not working so far and I feel very lucky to have my job protected for one year while I spend time with our new child. I was talking to a few friends who were visiting or who also were expecting overseas and became quite interested in their respective country’s maternity leaves and child care availability. As much as we gripe about the cost of childcare in Canada and the high cost of living but low parental benefits payout, I feel very fortunate not to have to think about child care for my 3 month old as I have to return to work.
Here’s what maternity leave looks like in four countries, if you’re curious like me.
A Tale of 4 Maternity Leaves: A Comparison Between 4 Countries
In Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive city to live in, employees are known for their hard worth ethic and crazy work hours. People barely have time to cook and eat out all the time because by the time they finish work it’s around 7pm and many people only have Sunday off work, working six days a week is the norm. The maternity leave benefits are employer paid and lasts for10 weeks after birth. It is paid to about 80% of the annual income.
Childcare and hired help or nannies can be ‘live in’ (working 6 days a week) and cost around $700-$1000 a month. These domestic helpers can help with cooking, grocery shopping, child care, taking children to and from school or extracurricular activities, cleaning around the home etc.
In Sweden, the land of Ikea and H&M, yes the taxes are high but there are lots of benefits. From a country where it is law that you have some time off from your employer (you know 15 minutes or so) so you can take your pet dog out, as dogs are not allowed to be left alone for more than eight hours. For maternity leave, expect no less. The progressive and feminist policies allow for mothers to care for their new babies without worrying about saving up to have a family.
My friend is a dental hygienist and she has 18 months of paid maternity leave at 80% of her gross pay for yes, the full 18 months. This is paid for by the government and her job is protected. None of the maternity leave benefits are paid for by her employer so her employer is supportive of her leave.
Childcare is provided for children after the they are 18 months, they call it ‘nursery’ and it is only $100 a month. $100 a month, not almost $100 a day like it is in major cities in Canada.
$100 a month!
It wasn’t always 12 months of paid leave for Canada, before it was only 6 months and before that it was even shorter (according to my baby boomer friends and acquaintances).
In Canada if you are an employee and your earnings will decrease by more than 40% during maternity leave, you have worked more than 600 hours before applying for leave, you may be eligible for maternity and parental benefits. The first 15 weeks are maternity benefits and the next 35 weeks are parental benefits (can be taken by either the mother or the father but not both). The maximum amount that you will be paid is $543 per week (this value changes yearly depending on inflation etc.), or 55% of maximum insurable earnings. If you work during this period much of your earned money is clawed back and your benefit payout amount for that week may be taken away. Many employers offer a ‘top up’ from the amount EI (Employment Insurance) pays. For example, my employer offers a top up to 75% of my pay for about 6 months, and this is part of the benefits package for employees.
Recently the Trudeau Liberal government announced extended maternity/paternity leave to 18 months that might start for the year 2018. That is, you have the option of taking a leave for 18 months instead of 12 months and your job will be protected for when you return.
However, the amount paid out by EI (Employment Insurance) is the same as the amount paid out for 12 months, except it is stretched out over 18 months. The amount will be 33% paid out of maximum insurable earnings, so instead of $543 a week max you will get $362 a week.
For childcare, this is provincially regulated and different for each province and territory. In British Columbia, daycare is expensive and even more expensive the younger a child is (for example if under the age of one). Childcare costs anywhere from $1200 to $1800 a month for one child, at a licensed daycare facility. For those who do ‘family day care’ where the staff are unlicensed and there is a smaller adult to child ratio, the costs are less. Nannies are another option and I have a friend who is paying $40,000 annually for a nanny for four days a week.
With the costs so high for daycare, many parents consider staying at home instead of working, since half of that paycheque after taxes is going towards childcare.
In the United States employees are entitled to unpaid leave of 12 weeks to care for the birth of a child according to the Department of Labor with the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). Many women return to work soon after the birth of their child because they can’t afford to not go to work. Employers may pay for 12-18 weeks of leave depending on your benefits, for example, if you work for a large corporation.
My friend works in New York and she had 7 months of leave but can use her sick bank and vacation days, after the 7 months the FMLA kicks in (Family Medical Leave Act) where she is entitled to 72 days of non paid leave.
According to Time’s Money, the average American spends just under $200 a week on child care.
I’m no policy analyst, but looking at the different options for child care and for maternity/parental benefits was very interesting for me, and I’m currently trying to find a way to move to Sweden and get Swedish citizenship (just kidding, eh). That being said, with Sweden being a small country with a smaller population than places like the United States, it can be easier to offer benefits for citizens.
Readers, do you know of any other countries that have differing maternity/parental leaves and childcare situations?