Let fathers take leaveLotte Group is launching a required paternity leave in 2017. All male employees of Lotte Group will take at least a month off from work when their spouses have a child. They are paid the regular wages.
The program is already garnering welcome within the group, and Lotte subsidiaries are getting many requests already. Some employees who had recently had babies ask if the program could be applied retrospectively. An employee even said that he was considering having a second child that the couple had long wanted.
The current fertility rate in Korea is 1.2, far below the 2.1 needed to maintain the population. At this rate, Korea may disappear from the map with not enough people. The average life span is increasing, but it cannot prevent population decrease. Instead, social costs are growing due to low birth and aging. So, low birth rates are not just a demographic issue but a concern affecting the existence of the nation as well as the economy and security.
Due to the desperate situation, Korea legally guarantees one-year childcare leave, longest among the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In fact, paternity leave is closely related to birth rate, as foreign examples illustrate.
Canada’s Quebec saw a 7 percent increase in the number of newborn babies between 2006 and 2016 as the number of fathers taking leave increased from 40,000 to 60,000. In Korea, only 7.4 percent of all workers taking childcare leave were male in the first half of 2016, far lower than 20 to 30 percent in Europe.
Of course, the government, especially the Ministry of Health and Welfare, is primarily responsible for population policy. But the low birth trend cannot be overcome by the efforts of the ministry or the government. It takes nationwide efforts, and companies need to be the most important partner when it comes to work-life balance and childcare leave.
It is meaningful that a conglomerate with extensive influence is leading the change, but it should not be limited to Lotte. The initiative would hopefully expand to other companies. Someday, paternity leave will become a full-fledged right.
Industry news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo