Male workers face dilemma over paternity leave
By Lee Hyo-sik
Kim Sung-tae, a 33-year-old public relations manager at one of Korea’s largest construction firms, faced a dilemma over whether to take paternity leave or not in November last year when his wife gave birth to a baby girl.
He had sleepless nights for a week or so, agonizing over the matter. But in the end, he decided not to take a leave of absence.
“I was extremely concerned about how I would be seen in the eyes of my superiors and colleagues if I took paternity leave for a year. I just didn’t want to be the first male employee in the company to take a break from work to care for a baby. I didn’t even dare to ask for a three-day unpaid vacation following my daughter’s birth,” Kim said.
He said a 500,000-won monthly-subsidy provided by the state employment insurance discouraged him from taking leave, adding he could not survive on that amount.
Regardless of income levels, both male and female salaried workers are currently given 500,000 won per month during parental leave. This is expected to go up to one million won next year.
“It has become the norm for female employees to take maternity leave for a year, following a three-month additional break following childbirth. No male workers have ever been on paternity leave in my company. I think it will likely take a long time for men to take time off from work to take care of babies,” Kim lamented.
Like him, the majority of male salaried workers here do not take advantage of paternity leave guaranteed by law, for a wide range of reasons.
In a survey of 304 male employees conducted by online job portal Incruit, 41.4 percent of respondents said they decided not to apply for leave out of concerns that they may suffer from disadvantages in promotion or other personnel evaluations.
Another 38.2 percent said they were reluctant to take paternity leave because of a prevalent gender stereotype that men should not be involved in childrearing. Also, 49.3 percent said their employers were reluctant to grant paternity leave.
According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, a total of 41,736 salaried workers took parental leave in 2010, up from 35,400 a year earlier. Of the 41,736, only 819 were men, up from 502 in 2009 and 355 in 2008.
Under the law, male workers, like their female counterparts, are allowed to take leave for a year when their children are under 6 years old. They are also entitled to a 500,000 won state subsidy per month from employment insurance.
Before and after the birth, men can also take a three-day unpaid vacation, while women are given a three-month vacation during which they are paid a full wage by both their employers and employment insurance.
“Korea has established a range of effective policies aimed at boosting its birthrate, including the provision of paternity leave. Its policies are on par with those of advanced countries. But the problem is that we do not put them into practice,” said Lee Sam-sik, director of the Low Fertility and Population Aging Division at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
He said male workers are pressured by their employers and coworkers not to take paternity leave in many cases, stressing all members of Korean society should make an effort to change their perception toward a traditional gender role.
“Many still think that women should be solely responsible for childcare whether they work or not. But it has to change in order to raise the nation’s rapidly falling birthrate. Men should share the burden of childrearing with their partners,” Lee said.
Young men need to take a more active attitude toward the use of paternity leave, the director said, stressing that business owners should allow their male employees to take time off and care for their children.
“CEOs should change their perception toward childbirth and childcare. It is their duty as Korean citizens to help increase birthrates and nurture future human resources. I think central and local governments should provide tax breaks and other incentives to businesses to promote the use of paternity leave,” Lee said.
The director said the 500,000-won monthly subsidy should be raised to encourage men to take parental leave, adding many male workers are reluctant to stay home and take care of babies for a year, due to the financial difficulty incurred.