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Japan wants more dads to take paternity leave

TOKYO >> The Japanese government last month set a goal that would have 30% of male employees taking paternity leave by 2025. That’s up from an original goal of 13% taking the leave this year. In 2018, only 6% used the leave.

Part of the challenge of bringing up the numbers has to do with Japanese work culture. Many workers interested in the leave have complained that it is difficult to take.

To increase participation, starting April, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to expand its subsidies to companies that support use of paternity leave. Currently, it provides up to 720,000 yen (about $6,575) to small and midsize companies that have employees who take paternity leave.

Based on the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, companies are required to give child-care leave to employees until the child is a year old. During leave, the men are provided with 67% of their salaries through six months and 50% thereafter, and are exempt from paying premiums for social insurance programs such as employee pension.

In contrast, in 2018, 90% of women took leave for six months or longer, while nearly 40% of men took less than five days off. The stark contrast illustrates how far the Japanese work culture has to go for businesses to embrace and establish paternity leave.

According to a nationwide ministry survey of full-time male employees with young children, 28% want to take leave. Based on that data, the government set the 30% participation goal.

The push to better accommodate the personal lives of workers is part of Japan’s strategy to deal with a declining population.

The survey revealed that along with flaws to the system, male employees did not take advantage of paternity leave because “there is an atmosphere in their workplaces that makes it difficult to take leave” and “their superiors and workplaces do not understand the system.”

The ministry intends to expand the current system starting in April, with increased subsidies of up to 840,000 yen (about $7,670) for a small to midsize company. About 6.5 billion yen (nearly $60 million) is earmarked in the fiscal 2020 budget for the subsidies.

According to a government estimate, the number of Japanese births in 2019 was expected to drop to below 900,000 for the first time. The population of Japanese children has been declining at a faster pace than anticipated.

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