PARENTHOOD IN SPAIN

A waiting game for expectant fathers in Spain, with paternity leave about to rise

From January 1, male employees will enjoy 12 paid weeks off work, up from the current eight. While some men are planning to take the full time off, others fear for their jobs

Dads in Spain will get 16 paid weeks off work in 2021.
Dads in Spain will get 16 paid weeks off work in 2021.VICTOR SAINZ

Sarah H., 33, and Álvaro R., 34, are living with a constant countdown. They are celebrating every morning that they wake up without their second baby having arrived, because it means that they are that little bit closer to their objective: getting past January 1, 2020, which will mean four extra weeks of paternity leave. “I’ve got to last 37 hours,” jokes Sara during her interview, which took place at 11am on December 30. “If she’s born on December 31, I’ll be so mad!” she admits.

If she’s born on December 31, I’ll be so mad!

Expectant mother Sara

Sara, who works in product development for a multinational, is due to give birth on January 1. But given that it’s her second pregnancy, she has been told that it’s normal for the baby to come a few days early. When her son was born, one year and 11 months ago, the father only had four weeks off work. In July 2018, paternity leave was raised to five weeks in Spain, and since last April, it’s been eight weeks. But male employees who have children in 2020 will enjoy 12 weeks off work, an increase that will cost the public coffers €336 million more. In 2021, paternity leave will go up to 16 weeks, putting it on a par with what mothers get.

“The month I spent with our first child went by very quickly,” explains Álvaro. “When I went back to work I had the feeling that I was still really needed at home. I’m very excited, and very keen to enjoy family life and to be with the eldest,” the journalist says. “Given that he gets home very late because of his work schedules, the idea of being alone with a newborn and a young child is very tough, with the meals and bathtimes,” his partner explains. That’s why they are planning to take their leaves at the same time, and not just the first four weeks that are compulsory under Spanish law. “If I end up doing OK, we might change it up,” she says, given that the remaining eight weeks can be taken during the 12 months after the birth under existing legislation.

In July 2018, paternity leave was raised to five weeks in Spain, and since last April, it’s been eight weeks

Manuela Sayago, 39, and Iván Acebes, 41, are also expecting, but they have a bit more of a margin. Her due date is January 11. “We would rather have 12 weeks of leave in order to stretch out the time before [the baby] will have to go to daycare,” explains Sayago, who works in human resources for a security firm. “For me, the more days the better, to create a team and, above all else, enjoy this stage of the baby,” adds Acebes.

A site manager for a construction firm, Acebes does not think that he will have any problems at his company if he takes off his 12 weeks of leave, provided the baby doesn’t come early. He knows men who are afraid of taking off so much time, but he has no doubts about it. “It belongs to me, and I’m going to enjoy it,” he says. “What I’m not going to do is miss hours that I could spend with my son for the sake of the company.”

New fathers in Spain get 100% of their salary during this time off work, and they cannot transfer the weeks they don’t want to their partners

Sayago, who deals with a lot of these leaves as part of her job, says that at her company – which is very male-dominated – all of the new fathers take their full leave. “There used to be fears about this, but things have changed a lot,” she says.

With the aim of giving men an incentive to take their leaves, new fathers in Spain get 100% of their salary during this time off work, and they cannot transfer the weeks they don’t want to their partners. According to the latest statistics from the Labor Ministry, the new system is working. Up to September 2019, a total of 120,973 maternity leaves were registered, and 150,750 paternity leaves. The difference, according to labor union UGT, is down to men having higher rates of employment, Europa Press news agency reports.

That said, in some sectors, “perhaps due to the work culture, it’s not so easy,” says Álvaro R. “A friend of mine who works in a major law firm told me that he would never dream of taking the 12 weeks.”

The challenges of breastfeeding

"Although it would not be fair for the fathers not to be able to have as much time, I would rather see maternity leaves increased to at least six months, to give enough time for the exclusive breastfeeding recommended by the WHO," says Manuela Sayago. She is pointing to the contradiction between the guidelines from health authorities, including those in Spain, and the reality: that maternity leave is not long enough.

"My wife managed to breastfeed for a year, but it was a heroic effort," explains Álvaro R. "At the start I thought that it was important to even out the leaves, so that women weren't penalized for having more time off," he continues. "But it's true that if you are going to breastfeed, maternity leave is not long enough. It should run for at least six months."

English version by Simon Hunter.

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