Family leave in Latvia - among the world's best

It is not uncommon to hear Latvians complain about their country, how it is run and how far behind other countries they are on this or that issue. We Latvians are tired of seeing ourselves at the tail end of any OECD or World Bank graph of well-being.

However there are some statistics where we do a bit better and one statistic in particular where we do very well, which doesn't get enough credit - and that's family leave.

When compared to global norms, including other European countries, Latvia stands up quite well. It has also been hypothesized that the amount of family leave policy may have an impact on women's participation in leadership roles, an area in which Latvia is also among the worldwide leaders.

Where we stand

In Latvia, during a healthy pregnancy, women are guaranteed 56 days of “birth leave” after the birth of their child, which is preceded by a guaranteed 56 days before birth, totalling 112 days (roughly 3.5 months) of paid maternity leave. This is the statistic used by the OECD, which shows Latvia ranks 20th of the 35 members, and 10 spots below the OECD average. Fathers are guaranteed 10 days of paid parental leave after the birth of a child.

However, the OECD's statistics don't factor in “childcare leave” which immediately follows the amount of leave for giving birth. In Latvia, this takes the format of parental leave of up to 1.5 years, which can be taken by the mother or the father, and is partially paid. This brings up the amount of paid family leave to a maximum of 84 weeks, which is on par with some of the most progressive policies in the world on this issue and would put Latvia at the top of the OECD list.

On top of that, the leader of the OECD comparison, the UK, is listed at 52 weeks, and is partially paid for only 39 of those weeks. Latvia, on the other hand, is partially paid throughout the entire length of the parental leave - all of the 84 weeks.

As icing on the cake, the paid parental leave is provided by the state, putting no burden on the employer.

 

A global comparison

The United States paints a picture of the alternative - what family leave policy looks like in a developed nation if the state does not participate, and leaves the choice to each business independently. In the US, 100 million employees have no access to paid family leave, and 1 in 4 women are allotted only 10 days of leave after birth, before having to return to their work - unpaid, at that. The US law does not guarantee any paid leave for new mothers.

Europe fares a bit better. Finland, the country usually associated with progressive policy and social welfare, provides 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. Denmark offers 14 weeks and 32 additional weeks to be split between the mother or the father after that, bringing the tally up to 52 weeks, which is on a par with the Latvian length of parental leave.

Then there's Canada, which offers between 12-18 months of combined maternal or paternal parental leave. Compared to the ultra-progressive Sweden, while Sweden offers a similar length of partially paid leave, the parent is entitled to roughly 75% of their salary. This is similar to Latvia, which also provides two generous payouts after birth, which is 80% of the social tax paid by the mother over the previous 12 months.

All things considered, Latvian family leave policy stands up along with the global leaders of social welfare.

 

Impact on economic participation

It has been hypothesized that there is a correlation between the amount of maternity leave available in a country and the number of women who take up leadership roles, whether in business or politics.

When observing Latvia's flexible family leave policies in tandem with the percentage of women on boards, this hypothesis seems to be supported.  The average percentage of women on boards in Europe is 18%, while Latvia's female representation on boards is 29%.

Latvia has the highest rate of natural women's participation in leadership positions. Though some countries have higher rates, such as Iceland with 48% female representation on boards and Norway with 42%, these rates are artificially achieved, as they have implemented gender quotas. Latvia's are the highest naturally occurring. Iceland's longest period of partially paid family leave is 17 months, while Norway's is 10 weeks. It is clear that, as a minimum, Latvia's higher amount of paid family leave has not decreased the rate of women's participation in leadership positions.

The reasoning for this has been suggested to be that women, faced with the inability to take time off, are forced to leave their positions altogether to take the time they require to care for the child, and then find it difficult to re-enter the workplace. The Latvian family leave policy guarantees the mother's role in the workplace, ensuring that she will not need to start over when returning. By not cutting the woman's career development pipeline, it enables women to have more of an opportunity to continue her upward trajectory through the ranks.

Therefore we can tentatively conclude that offering family leave to women has a positive impact on business, by not only having a positive impact on the tendency of women taking up leadership roles in business, but also by not losing valuable talent.

 

Conclusion

Though we rarely consider Latvia a social welfare state, by comparing its family leave policies to other renowned welfare states we can see that we are, indeed, on a similar footing. Not only that, our women feel more confident in taking leave to start their families, thanks to the guarantee of having their job back after the leave.

It is true that the actual amount of money paid to new parents are much lower than in wealthier countries such as Sweden and Finland, but the mechanisms are in place and there is no reason why, as Latvia's economy catches up with more developed economies, the payments cannot become more generous.

Despite the OECD chart on maternity leave not reflecting the generous amount of time allotted to care for new children, Latvians can be confident that the family leave policy is among the global leaders, and something we can be uncharacteristically happy about.

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