By Samantha Bader
New Zealand has taken another step towards ensuring that their workplaces are as progressive as possible when it comes to the workplace rights of women. Last week, a bill that was passed unanimously through parliament has become the first in the world to provide women who suffer a miscarriage with paid leave. This represents a massive milestone for working women in New Zealand, and it will hopefully pave the way for other countries to enact similar legislation.
The bill, championed by Labour MP Ginny Andersen, gives all couples who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth at any point during pregnancy three days of paid bereavement leave. It also extends to those couples who were planning on welcoming a baby via surrogacy or adoption. While this new law does not apply to abortions, which are legal in NZ, it does go further than the legislation that existed previously. Before this bill was passed, employers in New Zealand did have to provide women who suffered a stillbirth after the 20-week mark of their pregnancy with paid leave. Now, any woman who suffers this terrible loss is able to take time off work without having to use up any of their sick days.
“I felt that it would give women the confidence to be able to request that leave if it was required, as opposed to just being stoic and getting on with life, when they knew that they needed time, physically or psychologically, to get over the grief,” said Ginny Andersen.
It is a truly groundbreaking bill, as it is the first of its kind in the world to go this far when it comes to providing paid leave for mothers. Australia offers unpaid leave for mums who lose their baby after the 12-week mark of pregnancy, whereas in England, parents who lose their child after the 24-week marker are given paid lead. In the States, no such allowances are made. Employers are not legally required to provide women who lose their baby with any paid or unpaid leave time.
Here in Canada, the legislation varies from province to province. At the federal level, if the pregnancy ends before 20 weeks, women can apply for sickness benefits through the employment insurance program, and if the pregnancy ends after 20 weeks, they can apply for maternity benefits through the same program. In Ontario, women who have a miscarriage or stillbirth within the 17 weeks preceding their due date are entitled to pregnancy leave.
It is somewhat shocking that so few countries offer women such strong support, especially as miscarriages are tragically common. The Mayo Clinic estimates that of all known pregnancies in the USA, 20% will end in a miscarriage. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health says that they believe 1 to 2 in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage. With those numbers, countries should be doing everything they can to ensure that women have the time and resources they need to heal after a loss.
“You get three days’ paid leave, maybe you bury your baby or you have a service, and then you go back to work, and you carry on — and then what? That’s my concern,” said Vicki Culling, an educator about baby loss in New Zealand. She is supportive of the bill but is already pushing for lawmakers to go even further.
This bill definitely represents a step in the right direction to ensuring that women are treated more equitably in the workforce, and hopefully other countries follow suit. In the meantime, mothers all over the world will continue to look to New Zealand as a country that has consistently championed the rights of women.