HOLIDAYS (BEREAVEMENT LEAVE FOR MISCARRIAGE) AMENDMENT BILL (NO 2)
At the moment, New Zealanders are entitled to bereavement leave after the loss of a family member or child, but that does not include loss through miscarriage or through stillbirth. This bill enables a simple change that allows existing bereavement leave to be automatically made available for those families that have been through a miscarriage or a stillbirth. It is important that we allow families time to grieve, and I know for a fact that this is a sensitive topic that affects many families in New Zealand. I believe that it is important that parents know they have the right in law to grieve after a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Currently, the bereavement leave provisions of the Holidays Act 2003 are ambiguous in their application to miscarriage. Employees are entitled to three days' bereavement leave on the death of a child, but it is unclear whether this would also apply when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or in stillbirth. This ambiguity means that an employee's entitlement is left at the discretion of the employer, and some families have not been able to take much needed time to grieve. My bill makes a very simple change: it allows families certainty that they have a legal right to access bereavement leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth. This bill removes the ambiguity by making it clear that, at the unplanned end of a pregnancy by miscarriage or stillbirth, this constitutes grounds for bereavement leave and that the duration of the leave should be in line with entitlement of other deaths within the immediate family.
Experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth is an incredibly difficult time for a family, and I believe what this bill represents is showing that we have compassion in allowing families time to grieve, through having the right in law. Not everyone who experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth may feel like they need to access bereavement leave; however, it is important that we give people the option to access that leave should they choose to or wish to need it. There has been significant public support for this bill, with almost 7,000 members of the public signing an online petition to support the advocacy of members. Also, I would like to mention the person who initiated this bill, which was Kathryn van Beek, through being brave enough to tell her own story and to tell that in a public context.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge all of the women and those families and organisations that came through the select committee process and told their stories, and acknowledge that that process was not an easy one for many of those women. Many of the submissions at select committee on this bill spoke about the importance of legislation to provide time for those who have had a miscarriage and to have time to grieve that loss. Submissions spoke about how a miscarriage or stillbirth is a traumatic time for all involved and how arguing with an employer about leave entitlement could potentially create further stress at this time. Submissions mentioned that many women in New Zealand experience miscarriage, with around 20,000 a year, and that there is a significant amount of stigma and discrimination surrounding miscarriage. The committee heard that bereavement leave may help to eliminate some of the stigma, shame, and silence and allow people to get the support they need, including in the workplace.
There were also personal stories amongst the submissions which spoke about the huge toll of having a miscarriage and how that can take a toll not only on the individual but also on the wider whānau. Women stated that having the ability to take time for bereavement leave would make a huge difference to those immediately involved surrounding that loss. They spoke about how this bill is an acknowledgment of those who have suffered miscarriages in the past and that has largely been done in silence, and it would acknowledge that grief.
I'd like to quickly run through some of the submissions, because I think the statements made by some of those people and those organisations were most apt in describing the current situation that can happen in the workplace and the issues which this bill is addressing. I'd like to acknowledge the Council of Trade Unions. They stated that when a baby is lost through miscarriage or stillbirth, it is bereavement leave and not sick leave that is required. Bereavement leave is distinctly different from sick leave. Bereavement leave provides time for a person or people that have had the miscarriage or stillbirth for grieving that needs to be done after a death.
There are many stories of people who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth and have had to argue to take that leave. As well as having paid leave and having an entitlement to that paid leave, it's a statutory right that means job losses or job insecurity is not threatened by taking that leave or requesting to take that leave. A miscarriage or a stillbirth is a traumatic time and arguing about leave entitlements creates further stress and high emotion and it should not be at this time. It should be guaranteed as an employment right.
I would like to acknowledge Family Planning for what they contributed, and I think this contributes to the wider debate around what some of these issues are for New Zealand. They state: "Like other areas of sexual and reproductive health, it is important that we work to eliminate stigma, shame and silence surrounding miscarriage. Historically, women have been blamed for and judged because of miscarriage, and, sadly, there are still societal beliefs and attitudes which perpetuate this discrimination, particularly in some areas of the world. Misconceptions about the causes of miscarriage, as well as the ongoing discrimination women face about reproduction and reproductive decision-making contributes to shame and emotional distress experienced by people who have a miscarriage. This needs to change. People deserve support, compassion, and respect no matter what the outcome of a pregnancy and no matter what their decisions around reproduction … We hope this legislation not only provides relief to individuals who experience miscarriage, but helps to eliminate that stigma, shame and silence surrounding miscarriage so that people can more easily reach out for the support they need from friends, family, colleagues and their wider community, where that is helpful."
I would like to conclude by running through some of the key changes that the select committee made when considering this bill, and I would like to acknowledge the excellent work that was done. I believe that these changes strengthen the bill and provide greater clarity. Initially, it has made it clearer around the knowledge of pregnancy. It makes it clear that a mother does not need to have known they were pregnant. It acknowledges that sometimes when someone has a miscarriage they did not know that they were pregnant in the first place, and not having the word "confirmed" makes it clear you are still eligible.
Secondly, around proof of pregnancy, this is a change to clarify the proof that would not be required for an employee to take bereavement leave. The committee considered that removing the term "confirmed" is important because they did not want the term to be misunderstood and lead to an uncomfortable exchange between employee and employer.
Finally, also the definition of miscarriage—amending the definition of miscarriage to clarify that bereavement leave could be sought for the unplanned end of a pregnancy no matter how far along that pregnancy was. The committee recommends changing the definition in order to reflect that. This would ensure that any pregnancy that ends after 20 weeks would still be defined and included.
The fourth change is expanding the definition that would be able to be taking bereavement leave. The committee believes that parents planning to adopt a child and parents having a baby through surrogacy should also be entitled to bereavement leave on the unplanned end of a relevant pregnancy, and that that should be reflected by changing it in the bill.
The final change is the cause of pregnancy ending. It clarifies that employees who experience the end of a pregnancy by way of an abortion would not be eligible for bereavement leave. The committee believed that the intent of this bill is to provide bereavement leave to those who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth, not for abortion. The committee recommended changing and removing the word "unplanned" from the bill.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge all of those women who submitted, all of the time that has been given to drive a change that I know will make a real difference in women's and whānau lives around New Zealand. Nō reira, I commend this bill to the House.