Why we need a ‘daddy quota’ and shared parental leave

Dramatic shift in rules needed to get Ireland out of nappies on work-home policy

If reducing the 14 per cent gender pay gap between men and women is the aim, then boosting paternity leave entitlements and uptake is an obvious lever to pull.

If reducing the 14 per cent gender pay gap between men and women is the aim, then boosting paternity leave entitlements and uptake is an obvious lever to pull.

 

When it comes to policies to encourage new fathers to take time off work when babies are born, Ireland is still in nappies. It emerged this week that only a third of new Irish fathers have taken the two weeks paternity benefit entitlement of €235 per week, which was introduced last September after years of delay.

No wonder the uptake is so low: it is a paltry entitlement compared to European peers, particularly in duration but also as a proportion of average earnings. Not only is Ireland still in nappies in this policy arena, but we need changing already.

When my first daughter was born six years ago, I took three weeks off work: one week’s annual leave and two additional weeks granted to me by my then employer. I envied my wife, who was able to take more than seven months off.

When my second daughter was born two years ago, I took four weeks to be at home: two weeks of leave and, again, another two additional weeks granted by my current employer. My wife was able to take eight months.

Despite glaring disparity between mine and my wife’s leave, we were still among the luckiest ones. My employers were then under no obligation to give me any time apart from annual leave, but each gave two weeks full pay. In addition my wife, a teacher employed by the State, was on full pay for all of her leave, which included summer.

If reducing the 14 per cent gender pay gap between men and women is the aim, then boosting paternity leave entitlements and uptake is an obvious lever to pull. More fathers taking longer time off, in place of mothers, will reduce the salary and prospect-damaging gaps that arise in some women’s careers when they have children.

Reduce the incentive

If men become as likely as women to take significant time off when children are born, this will also reduce the incentive for employers to discriminate against women when hiring or doling out promotions. An ancillary effect is that it would boost a culture of men working at home and with children, and women excelling at work. Who knows what social and cultural changes that could spur in future decades?

But the government chafed in 2015 on an expert advisory group’s recommendation for a ground-breaking policy that would have helped Ireland skip the nappies stage and go straight to pull up pants: by introducing mandatory shared parental leave between couples, to be split between them as they see fit.

In Ireland, mothers are entitled to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. Employers are not obliged to top up the social welfare payment, although many do in practice. Mothers are entitled to take a further 16 weeks with no pay. Fathers are entitled to just the two weeks, and can only take up some of the mother’s entitlement if she dies.

Same-sex couples are supposed to be treated the same on paper. If both parents are women, the one who doesn’t give birth can be nominated for paternity rights. Adoptive leave (similar in duration to maternity) is granted to an adoptive mother or a sole male adopter, ehich is relevant to two gay men adopting.

But Ireland is an outlier when it comes to shared parental leave, which most European countries have in place, including the UK, which introduced it in 2015 when Ireland was baulking at the fence.

In the UK, maternity leave ends at 12 weeks, with a further 40 weeks to be split between parents as they wish. In Sweden, parents get 480 days at 80 per cent of normal pay between them, including a mandatory “daddy quota” of 90 days.

Generous schemes

New mothers in Denmark get 18 weeks, during which fathers can also take two weeks. After that, couples get 32 weeks to split between them. Norway and Iceland, as you would expect, also have generous schemes that give fathers the option of taking extensive time off.

But it isn’t just Nordic social democracy utopias that have progressive paternity policies. In Hungary – the land of right-wing sabre-rattler Viktor Orban – once the 24 weeks of maternity ends, parents can split up to 156 weeks between them, of which 104 weeks is at 70 per cent salary.

The rejected Irish proposal, first made in 2013 and finally kiboshed two years later by the then-relevant minister, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, was for 26 weeks guaranteed for mothers, with a further 26 to be split as parents see fit. There was no mandatory “Daddy quota”, but there should have been.

Business groups would have howled at the cost to the economy, but this is the sort of thing that is going to have to be introduced if the gender pay gap is to be narrowed and traditional barriers are to be broken down.

At the very least, the State should allow some of the current 26 weeks of maternity leave to be shared with fathers. If the State won’t make the changes necessary to address these issues, why should anybody else bother?

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FOOTNOTES

- One of the curios of Aer Lingus as a former State-owned airline is that it has a staff travel office located adjacent to its Shamrock House headquarters at Dublin Airport. It is maintained by the airline to sell discounted travel deals to current and some former staff.

Last Friday, it was suddenly closed, and former staff were told it would remain so for “several days”. A note pinned to the door said the closure was due to “disruptions in Dublin Airport”.

What disruptions? The airport was busy, as it always is at the height of summer. But there were no special circumstances at Dublin: no bombs, no strikes, no apparent airport-related reasons for the closure.

It turns out that the Aer Lingus staff office wasn’t closed because of disruptions “at Dublin airport” at all. It was closed because of disruption at Aer Lingus.

An email sent out by the airline to former staff clarified that the staff from the office had been hooked to work elsewhere to deal with the chaos caused after a number of Aer Lingus flights were cancelled for “technical reasons”.

In the past 10 days, up to three transatlantic Aer Lingus craft have been taken out of service. This includes one plane that was in a Dublin hangar, and into the rear of which a staff member collided with a set of steps.

The replacement Boeing 767 aircraft hired in by the airline did not have the same capacity as the withdrawn A330s, and all sorts of disruption ensued for the airline and its passengers as it scrambled to rebook some of them.

It’s a lazy, hazy summer. Unless you’re in the airline business.

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Accounts for the year to the end of March 2016 filed for Topaz show it accrued transaction charges of €4.7 million, presumably related to its sale the previous month by Denis O’Brien to the Canadian giant, Alimentation Couche-Tard.

When the deal was announced a few months beforehand, former Topaz chief executive and O’Brien’s nephew, Emmet O’Neill, made it sound as if he had negotiated much of the deal himself directly with his Canadian counterparts.

But as a hefty near €5 million bill shows, the lawyers and accountants always get their share.

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