The Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2) (“the Bill”) was introduced to Parliament on 27 June 2019 by Labour MP Ginny Andersen. The Bill proposes to remove the ambiguity in the current wording of the Holidays Act 2003 (“the Act”), regarding how bereavement leave applies to miscarriages and still-births. Currently, employees are entitled to bereavement leave on the death of a child, but it is unclear whether this extends to a miscarriage or still-birth.
This ambiguity has, in the past, led to disputes between employees and employers about what leave they are entitled to after suffering a miscarriage or still-birth, significantly increasing employees’ distress during an already stressful period in their lives, and often resulting in employees using their sick or annual holiday leave.
The Bill would remove the ambiguity by clarifying that a miscarriage or still-birth constitute grounds for bereavement and providing the mother (and her partner) up to three days of bereavement leave.
Studies show that approximately 20,000 New Zealand women suffer one or more miscarriages each year and there is still significant stigma and discrimination surrounding miscarriage. The proposed changes in the Bill would have a big impact on the health and wellbeing of those who suffer a miscarriage and would help to eliminate some of the stigma and shame around the topic, hopefully allowing people to seek the support they need.
While the Bill seeks to extend bereavement leave to those who suffer a miscarriage, it does not extend to providing bereavement leave for women or their partners after an abortion. Family First NZ suggested an amended to the Bill as such. “We absolutely support this bill but request that it be extended to cover post-abortive women.” “Bereavement leave for both miscarriages … and abortions would allow women the opportunity to seek the support and counselling that they may need at this time” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
MP Ginny Andersen has confirmed that she supports employees receiving bereavement leave after an abortion. However, she opted to exclude abortion from the Bill as she was concerned that its inclusion could politicise the Bill and increase the risk it might not pass.
The Bill had its first reading on 10 December 2019, when it passed the vote in the House. The Bill was considered and examined by the Select Committee on ‘Education and Workforce’ who prepared a report on the Bill before the second reading.
The Bill had its second reading on 29 July 2020. It received cross-party support and was commended to the House from representatives from all major political parties.
Changes to the Bill by the Select Committee include confirming that proof of pregnancy would not be required for an employee to take bereavement leave, extending the definition of miscarriage to the unplanned end of a pregnancy, no matter how far along that pregnancy was, extending eligibility to bereavement leave to those planning to adopt a child or having a child through a surrogacy arrangement (and the relevant pregnancy ending due to miscarriage or still birth), and clarifying that employees who experience the end of a pregnancy by way of abortion would not be eligible for bereavement leave.
The Bill is currently before the Committee of the whole House, with no set date for its third reading. However, given the cross-party support of the Bill, we believe it is likely to pass the vote and will become law some time in 2021.
By Anneke Reid