To boost the number of male employees taking paternity leave and promote female participation in the workforce, Japan's labor ministry decided to increase government subsidies for companies whose employees do so, sources close to the matter said Thursday.

The rate of men who take leave for childcare is currently around 6 percent despite six consecutive years of increase, far from the government's goal of achieving 13 percent by 2020.

Under the current system, companies receive subsidies if they undertake steps to facilitate paternity leave such as holding management seminars or getting bosses to encourage their subordinates to take leave.

So far, small and medium-sized companies receive between 570,000 yen ($5,350) and 720,000 yen for the first paternity leave taken by an employee. The sum ranges from 285,000 to 360,000 yen in the case of large companies. Subsidies are additionally given if more take paternity leave, based on the number of days taken.

The labor ministry aims to add around 100,000 yen to those subsidies for every male employee at small and medium-sized companies taking leave if companies take more of an initiative, the sources said. Details are still being studied, but large companies will receive half of the sum to be given to small and middle-sized companies, they said.

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Japan ranked first among 41 countries in a UNICEF report in June on the childcare system for men based on subsidies and the length of paternity and childcare leave in 2016.

The report also noted, however, that the number of men who took advantage of the system in Japan was very low, giving reasons that included businesses being short-handed and company culture that made it difficult for employees to request childcare leave.

According to an August poll by Kyodo News on 112 major companies, slightly more than half said the rate of men taking child-care leave was less than 10 percent, while 19 percent of those polled said that the rate was 50 percent or higher.

Personal stories about company retaliation over paternity leave have appeared on social media, including job relocation, which generally means employees having to live away from their families.

A labor union based in Tokyo says calls by employees asking for advice on company retaliation include tales of job rotations and markedly lower personnel reviews after returning from paternity leave.

Keiko Ishikawa, a public relations consultant and expert on corporate crisis management, cautions companies that potential employees place importance on the ease of getting childcare leave.

Companies need to recognize that difficulty in getting leave may affect their corporate values and hinder their long-term growth, she said.