Austria’s Paid Maternity Leave

June 01, 2018

In 2004, the Austrian government ratified the ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183). The most recent update in 2015 stipulated 16 weeks of maternity leave. During maternity leave, mothers receive a form of health insurance. Following the sixteen-week maternity leave, parental leave begins and lasts until the baby reaches 24 months of age and parents must be allowed to return to their original place of employment at the end of the two years of leave. During this time, childcare allowance (financed by contributions from employers, general taxes, and public health insurance) is paid to all families who meet the eligibility conditions. Austrian law also prohibits employers from dismissing workers when they inform their employers of pregnancy and during the two-year parental leave period. Expectant mothers cannot be made to work hard or health risk-associated assignments, graveyard shifts, weekends, or public holidays. The dismissal and termination protection ends four weeks after the end of parental leave.  


Description & Context

Since 1979, the Austrian Government has had substantial maternity protection legislation in place. In 2004, the government ratified the ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) (6). Since then, this legislation has been updated many times, most recently in 2015. Maternity leave policy allows for 16 weeks of maternity leave - pregnant women are in fact prohibited from work during the eight weeks prior to and after their delivery date. In cases of danger to the health of the mother or unborn child, women are eligible to take leave earlier than eight weeks before delivery and when there is a premature birth, multiple births or births by Caesarean section, women are eligible for 12 weeks maternity leave after birth (in exceptional cases even 16 weeks) (6).

During this sixteen-week maternity leave period, mothers receive “Wochengeld,” which is a form of health insurance and is the equivalent to their average income during the last 13 weeks before the absolute employment prohibition, with no ceiling cap. Freelance workers, self-employed women, and unemployed women also receive maternity leave payment, as stipulated by the Austrian legislation (7).

Following the sixteen-week Maternity Leave, Parental Leave begins and lasts until the baby reaches 24 months of age (18 months for one parent and 6 months for the other). Parents must be allowed to return to their original place of employment at the end of the two years of leave. During this time, childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld) is paid to all families who meet the eligibility conditions (6 months of socially insured employment prior to the birth of the child), whether or not parents take their allowed leave (7).

Austrian law also prohibits employers from dismissing workers when they inform their employers of pregnancy and during the two-year parental leave period. Expectant mothers cannot be made to work hard or health risk-associated assignments, graveyard shifts, weekends, or public holidays. The dismissal and termination protection ends four weeks after the end of parental leave (6). 

Childcare allowance is publicly funded (70%) from Familienlastenausgleichsfond (FLAF - Family Burdens Equalisation Fund), which is financed by contributions from employers (4.5 per cent of their salary bill) and from general taxes, and partly (30%) from public health insurance (7).

Despite this legislation, exclusive breastfeeding up 6 months of age is very low in Austria -  at 10% in 2006 (8). IBFAN cites the dissolution of the Austrian Breastfeeding Commission and frequent healthcare provider recommendations of early introduction of solid foods as primary reasons for this low rate. They recommend extending the duration of maternity leave to 18 weeks in order to enable the mother to exclusively breastfeed for a longer period (8).


Main Components

Specifics of the 16-week maternity leave benefit (Wochengeld) include (7):

  • Employed mothers receive the equivalent to their average income during the last 13 weeks before the absolute employment prohibition, with no ceiling cap.
  • Freelance workers receive an income-based maternity benefit
  • Marginally employed self-insured women receive a flat-rate payment
  • Self-employed women (traders and farmers) are eligible for financial or other support to maintain their businesses as a form of maternity benefits, but if no operational support is granted, they can claim a flat-rate payment
  • Unemployed women or those receiving Childcare allowance are entitled to 180 per cent of their previous unemployment benefit

This benefit system is publicly funded, in part (70%) from Familienlastenausgleichsfond (FLAF - Family Burdens Equalisation Fund), which is financed by contributions from employers (4.5 per cent of their salary bill) and from general taxes, and partly (30%) from public health insurance (7). 

For childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld), there is a choice between five payment options, four flat-rate and one income related (7):

  1. €436 a month for 30 months or for 36 months if both parents apply for the payment (30+6 bonus months’ option);
  2. €624 a month for 20 months or 24 months (20+4 bonus months’ option);
  3. €800 a month for 15 months or 18 months (15+3 bonus months’ option);
  4. €1,000 a month for 12 months or 14 months for those earning less than €1,000 income a month (12+2 bonus months’ option);
  5. 80% of the last net income for 12 months or 14 months for those earning between €1,000 and €2,000 a month (12+2 bonus months’ income-related option).

Essentially, the longer the leave, the lower the monthly rate. On any of the four flat-rate childcare benefit options, a parent may additionally earn 60 per cent of the income they earned in the calendar year prior to the child‘s birth or at least €16,200 a year. For the earnings-related option, additional earnings may not exceed €6,400 a year. Childcare benefit is funded from the FLAF (7).


Evidence of Implementation Strategy

Virtually all eligible (i.e. formerly employed) mothers – between 93 and 96 percent – took up parental leave since 2010 in Austria. A much smaller of fathers take paternal leave, but the number can be as high as 30 percent (7).

Despite all of the legislation and stipulations, exclusive breastfeeding for the infant’s first 6 months of life still remain low in Austria at 10% (8). IBFAN cites the dissolution of the Austrian Breastfeeding Commission and healthcare provider recommendations of early introduction of solid foods as primary reasons for this low rate. They recommend extending the duration of maternity leave to 18 weeks in order to enable the mother to exclusively breastfeed for a longer period (8).

In other important areas, Austria’s children and population are thriving;

  • 87% of one year olds in 2016 had received the diphtheria, tetanus toxoid, and pertussis (DTP3) vaccination (9).
  • The under-five mortality ratio (per 1,000 live births) has dropped from 16 in 1980 to become one of the best in the world at only 4 deaths in 2016 (9,10).
  • Life expectancy is 79 and 84 respectively for men and women (9).
  • Austria’s GDP is in the top 30 in the world (11).

While maternity legislation is not solely responsible for these figures, robust maternity (and paternity) legislation is an indicator of a healthy country(12).


Cost and Cost-Effectiveness

In 2014, the total expenditure on maternity leave was €461 and between 93 and 96% of eligible mothers took up parental leave (7). Clearly, this improves physical and mental health for young parents; paid maternal leave has been shown to have significant benefits for the newborn child and their parents; a 2011 study of 141 countries with paid maternity leave showed as much as a 10% decrease in infant mortality (1).  Paid maternal leave has been shown to have significant benefits for the newborn child and their parents; a 2011 study of 141 countries with paid maternity leave showed as much as a 10% decrease in infant mortality (1). Paid maternity leave is also more likely to:

  • Increases the rate and duration of breastfeeding (2,3).
  • Increase infant immunizations rates
  • Improve post-partum mental (4)

Benefit the country and family economically - paid leave has been shown to increase labor force participation and productivity when women return to pre-pregnancy jobs and provides financial security for those who could not afford to take leave otherwise (5).


Perceptions and Experiences of Interested People

The 2014 International Network on Leave Policies and Research Austrian report, written by members of the Austrian Institute for Family Studies and Vienna University, states that maternity leave is well established and widely accepted. In addition, they report that parental leave is linked to broader issues of work-life balance and to gender equality. Austria’s legislation is a step towards improvement in both of these issues (7).


Benefits and Potential Damages and Risks

Austria’s exclusive breastfeeding rate is not high at 10% in 2006 (8). While this may be more of a problem related to information from healthcare professionals and social perceptions, there is a risk with such a large investment in paternal legislation that breastfeeding rates will not increase significantly.


Scaling Up Considerations

  • Countries need the resources implement maternal and paternal paid leave for all its citizens.
  • Monitoring businesses to ensure they comply with the parental leave legislation for their employees is crucial. Public awareness of relevant legislation would help monitoring and enforcement, as employees could self-report violations. 

Barriers to Implement

IBFAN cites the dissolution of the Austrian Breastfeeding Commission and healthcare provider recommendations of early introduction of solid foods as primary reasons for this low rate. They recommend extending the duration of maternity leave to 18 weeks in order to enable the mother to exclusively breastfeed for a longer period (8).


Equity Considerations

While the Austrian parental leave legislation provides benefits to freelance, marginally employed, self-employed, and unemployed mothers, their benefits are flat rates or percentages of unemployment benefits that may not cover all needs as compared to employed mothers that receive their average income from their employment. These mothers and fathers may feel financial pressure to re-enter the workforce earlier than the legislation allows for, potentially hampering optimal breastfeeding practices.


References:

  1. Dr. Heymann, J. et al. “Creating and Using New Data Sources to Analyze the Relationship Between Social Policy and Global Health: The Case of Maternal Leave” (2011). Public Health Reports. Retrieved from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150137/
  2. Applebaum, E. and Ruth Milkman. “Leaves that Pay” (2011). Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University. Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/28/paid-family-leave-1-2011.pdf
  3. Breastfeeding (2017). UNICEF. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/nutrition/index_24824.html
  4. Chatterji, P. and Sara Markowitz. “Family Leave After Childbirth and the Mental Health of New Mothers” (2012). The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics 15: 61-76. Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/28/15-061_text.pdf
  5. The Economic Benefits of Paid Leave (2015). Democratic Staff of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States. Retrieved from  https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/646d2340-dcd4-4614-ada9-be5b1c3f445c/jec-fact-sheet---economic-benefits-of-paid-leave.pdf
  6. Maternity Protection Act 1979, amended latest 2015. Retrieved from  http://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/Erv/ERV_1979_221/ERV_1979_221.html 
  7. Rille-Pfieffer, C., et al. Austria Country Notes (2017). International Network on Leave Policies and Research. Retrieved from  http://www.leavenetwork.org/fileadmin/Leavenetwork/Country_notes/2017/Austria_2017_final.pdf
  8. Report on the Situation of Infant and Young Child Feeding in Austria (2013). IBFAN. Retrieved from  http://www2.ohchr.org/English/bodies/cescr/docs/ngos/InternationalBabyFoodActionNetwork_Austria_CESCRWG51.pdf
  9. Austria Key Indicators (2016). WHO. Retrieved from  http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.cco.ki-AUT?lang=en
  10. Under Five Mortality Ratio (2013). UN Human Development Reports. Retrieved from  http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/under-five-mortality-rate-1000-live-births 
  11. GDP Ranking (2016). The World Bank. Retrieved from  https://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table 
  12. Burtle, A. and Stephen Bezruchka. “Population Health and Paid Paternal Leave: What the United States Can Learn from Two Decades of Research” (2016). Healthcare 4(2):30. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934583/  



Submitted by Katie Doucet on June 01, 2018