February 17, 2011 / 9:38 AM / 9 years ago

Paternity leave hits Norway cabinet, PM thrilled

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s governing cabinet is seriously undermanned; and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg couldn’t be happier.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (L-R), Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Finland's President Tarja Halonen and Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt attend a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 28, 2011. OREUTERS/Vincent Kessler

One of his signature issues has been expanding the “father quota” in Norway’s parental leave program, encouraging dads to stay home with their babies for at least 10 weeks at full pay.

Now that his justice minister and family affairs minister have joined Oslo’s parade of male pram pushers on the state payroll, Stoltenberg is no less enthusiastic about the program.

“I miss them,” he told Reuters outside a cafe where the three leaders and the two babies were about to meet for the first time in 2011.

“But it can’t be that men are more indispensable to the workplace — or to the government — than women.”

The head of Norway’s Labour-led coalition recalled his own strolls in the park with a newborn in 1989 and added: “I have never met so many women as I did then.”

Once in the cafe, as photographers clicked away, Justice Minister Knut Storberget said he’d paid little attention to prosecution issues dominating the media since his leave began on January 1.

“I have been living in a bubble with my baby,” the 46-year-old said, “so it will be very strange to go back to work, even though I’ve been a minister for almost six years.”

He has until March 31. The family affairs minister, 33-year-old Audun Lysbakken, left work on November 29 and is due back March 21.

Since both have been temporarily replaced by women, two thirds of Norway’s active cabinet is now female.

Both parents in this country get an automatic two weeks off after a birth. Then they are offered a combined 46 weeks of fully paid leave or 56 weeks at 80 percent of their normal pay.

Ten weeks are reserved for the father and are lost if he remains on the job. Like the two ministers, many fathers take more for themselves as their wives head back to work.

Later this year the maximum leave will expand to 57 weeks, with 12 weeks to the father, and the government intends to expand the father quota to 14 weeks later.

After bouncing baby Ingrid and baby Aurora on his knees for 15 minutes, Stoltenberg said he had to go back to work.

“We’re going to the cinema,” Storberget said, smiling broadly.

“I’m going to run the country,” said the prime minister.

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