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By Jenny David
Israel's parliament (Knesset) extended paid maternity leave from 14 to 15 weeks March 21 and made it easier for men to join in their partners' time off.
Another increase—to 16 weeks—is expected within six months, according to the bill's parliamentary sponsor, MK Rachel Azaria.
Under the amendment to Israel's Period of Birth and Parenthood Law, all Israeli women who have given birth since Jan. 1, 2017, are entitled to a 15th week of paid leave from the National Insurance Institute. Parents can also choose to include one week of joint leave in a 14-week period, in which case the mother may opt to take the 15th week as unpaid leave.
The amendment reduces the minimum period during which a father may replace his partner on paid leave from three weeks to one. The higher minimum was preventing some men from sharing in the leave, according to the bill's introduction.
Azaria called the changes “groundbreaking for the Israeli family” and said “working parents top our priority list.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon also strongly backed the bill, allocating the 230 million shekels ($63 million) needed for its implementation even before parliamentary passage.
The additional leave “will ease the infant's transition to preschool institutions,” according to the law's introduction, and “reduce the number of women leaving work due to difficulties in finding a satisfactory arrangement for the infant.” Encouraging fathers to take time off will also advance the status of women and “equalize attitudes toward women of childbearing age in the labor market.”
According to the legislation's co-sponsor, MK Dov Khenin, there is still more to do.
“We're advancing toward the accepted standard for maternity leave in developed countries,” Khenin said, “but we must continue down this road, regarding both the length of maternity leave and mothers and fathers being partners in parenting.”
Salaried fathers are also now eligible for five days' paternity leave, although the time off is deducted from their vacation days and sick leave.
Khenin initiated the Knesset's last increase in paid maternity leave, from 12 to 14 weeks, in 2007.
The Knesset also approved a separate amendment March 21 that will make more women eligible for a shortened work day for four months after returning from maternity leave.
Israel's Women's Employment Law granted new mothers working in full-time positions the right to one hour off each day for the four months after returning from maternity leave but did not define what constitutes full-time work or allow women working less than full-time partial eligibility for the shortened workday.
“A woman working 99 percent of a full-time job would thus actually work longer hours than a woman working a 100 percent position,” the new law's sponsors explained, saying the amendment will correct the “existing discrepancy and discrimination between the rights” of women working in different positions.
Under the amendment, a woman working eight hours per day and at least 174 hours per month will be entitled to take one paid hour off, and those working six hours per day will be entitled to take a half hour off with pay, for the first four months after returning to work from statutory maternity leave.
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