Labour History

From Unpaid Maternity Leave to Paid Parental Leave in New Zealand: Changing Approaches in Legislation

Labour History (2012), 102, (1), 197–214.


New Zealand first introduced legislation for parental leave in the private and public sectors in 1980, with the Maternity Leave and Employment Protection Act. This Act provided up to 26 weeks of employment protection and unpaid leave for women only. Eligibility required 18 months of continuous employment of 15 hours or more per week for the same employer. Subsequently, there were two major developments in the legislation. In 1987 the introduction of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act gave men the right to parental leave and reduced eligibility requirements. The second major change was in 2002 with the introduction of paid parental leave in the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave) Act. This paper applies Baird’s typology of maternity leave orientations to analyse the fundamental debates occurring for each of these changes in legislation. An historical approach is used to gain a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the development of parental leave legislation for all employees in New Zealand.

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Author details

Ravenswood, Katherine

Kennedy, Ann-Marie