Author: Kook Hee Lee
In the early 2000s, the Republic of Korea introduced a system of paid maternity and parental leave to increase female labor force participation and fertility rates by mitigating hardships for female workers after childbirth. The source of financial support in the process of introducing the system lacked consensus, however. The Ministry of Labor consulted with stakeholders and encouraged political parties to agree to adopt the paid leave system. Key stakeholders and political parties opposed the paid leave system or preferred health insurance to employment insurance as a funding source. Finally, acknowledging practical barriers to those avenues, they agreed to employment insurance as a primary funding mechanism. Many mothers, but very few fathers, used the system. Incentivizing paternal engagement became a hot issue during the 2012 presidential campaign. After internal consultations, the labor ministry proposed a revised mechanism and then met with stakeholders, such as employees, employers, and representatives of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The stakeholders arrived at a consensus, and the labor ministry revised the regulation accordingly to incentivize fathers to also take parental leave. The reforms helped increase women’s employment opportunities and encouraged more men to take parental leave. Although the reforms had no proven effect on the national fertility rate, they yielded many other demonstrated benefits, particularly for female workers.