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Parental Leave: Turkey Fails in Paid Parental Leave

International organizations such as United Nations and European Union are encouraging their members to improve parental leave regulations for both parents. However, despite the efforts of international organizations and demands of our country’s non-governmental organizations, Turkey has not introduced any regulation on shared postnatal paid parental leave. Özlem Erkmen discusses the subject in detail in the framework of dokuz8NEWS data project.

#dokuz8/Özlem Erkmen

In recent years, international organizations such as United Nations and European Union have encouraged their members to improve parental leave regulations regarding both parents. The subject has gained international recognition after UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Anne Hathaway’s speech on paid parental leave on March 8 last year, advocating for fathers’ right to parental leave. Turkey, on the other hand, is particularly focused on half-time work due to the debates on Regulation which have recently heated up.

The documents prepared by international organizations such as UN, EU and OECD define the paid prenatal and postnatal leaves granted to mothers and fathers as well as additional paid leaves specifically granted to the mother and/or father or paid leaves which can be used until the child grows up.

We Fall Behind the World in Total ‘Paid Leave’ for Fathers

While the average paid maternity leave granted to new mothers is 153 days in Europe, it is only 112 days in Turkey. As to paid paternity leave on the other hand, Turkey ranks closer to the European average of 9 days. Fathers are granted 5 and 10 days of paternity leave in private and public sectors, respectively.

Turkey, however, falls short in paid parental leave. EU average climbs up to 460 days in total paid maternity leave and to 43 days in total paid paternity leave. On the other hand, in Turkey, parents who wish to extend their leave following the maternity/paternity leave are offered the options of either taking unpaid leave or working half-time or part-time. Despite the demands from public and non-governmental organizations, the government is reluctant to introduce any regulation on postnatal paid parental leave to be shared by parents.

The right to half-time work is also mostly regulated to the benefit of mothers in legal texts. While the private sector does not entitle fathers to any half-time work, public sector grants this leave to fathers provided that their spouse is also employed.

Half-time Working Parents Will Lose Rights

The law on the half-time work of civil servant mothers and fathers was amended by the collective law enacted in 2016. However, the regulation on the use of this right has not been issued yet. Although Jülide Sarıeroğlu, Minister of Labor and Social Security, announced the regulation in progress as good news in the past days, it can be observed in the law that half-time working parents will lose several rights in terms of salary, severance, pension and social benefits.

For half-time workers, the salary is paid in half, SSI (Social Security Institution) premium is paid in half, and severance is calculated on half of the salary. Furthermore, half-time work also causes loss of income in spite of İŞKUR (Turkish Employment Agency) contributions. In the 2016 report of Women’s Labor and Employment Initiative, it was stated that half-time work led to loss of income particularly for workers with salaries higher than minimum wage. As an example using the figures of 2018, an employee with a salary of TL 4000 is only entitled to state contribution on the half of their salary i.e. 2000 TL + 1007,05 TL, which yields a monthly income of TL 3007,05.

Families Struggle to Find Free or Reasonably Priced Daycare

As per article 41 of the Constitution titled “Protection of the Family”, the State must take all necessary measures to protect children. Besides, under article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where Turkey is also a party, States must take all appropriate measures to ensure that “working parents and their children have the right to benefit from child-care services and facilities for which they are eligible.” Nevertheless, the problem of daycare stands as a major drawback for families although it is of key importance when it comes to childcare for 0-6 years.

Parents are not able to assume childcare without families incurring any loss of income, and the problem of finding free or reasonably priced daycare poses a great problem for families.

Although private sector businesses with 150 female employees (or male employees with child custody) are obliged to establish in-house daycare facilities, the situation is not monitored at all. While penalties are not deterrent, businesses usually prefer paying the fines instead of incurring the cost of opening daycare facilities. In the public sector on the other hand, the number of daycares was 497 in 2008, the year when funds were cut, whereas the number later dropped to 121 in 2015, and to 56 in 2016.

While the existing services usually cover children of 3-6 years of age, the state barely offers any service for children below the age of 3. Therefore, families resort to private institutions at high prices for early childhood care services, which compels parents, particularly mothers, to partially or completely quit their job in order to care for their child.

Current Regulations Lead to Loosening and Insecurity in Women’s Employment

Even the advocators of paid leave for both parents in Turkey tend to think that the majority of this leave should be used by the mother. This tendency is also common across EU countries. Particularly in economically developing countries, a distinct majority is of the opinion that the leave should be used by the mother. However, considering the top countries in the human development index, supporters of equal allocation of the leave between parents are much higher compared to other countries. Human Development Foundation describes this concept by focusing on the enrichment of human life, and the opportunities and alternatives that humans have rather than the economic wealth of countries. In countries like Turkey, which tend to base social life on economic growth, parents cannot have a free choice in terms of subsistence and childcare due to the reasons listed above.

Current regulations, therefore, particularly cause loosening and insecurity in women’s employment by using childcare as an excuse. Instead of concentrating on half-time work, the state should take concrete steps to extend prenatal and postnatal paid leaves, regulate shared parental leave, and increase the number of state or municipal daycare facilities.

Translation: Nilay Iğdır

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