Gap in employment rights for fathers-to-be

Ireland is one of the few countries in the European Union not to have any statutory paternity leave

To attend the actual birth and to take time off in the days afterwards, a father is at the mercy of workplace agreements or an employer’s decency to allow them to ‘down tools’, sometimes with very little notice. Photograph: Thinkstock

To attend the actual birth and to take time off in the days afterwards, a father is at the mercy of workplace agreements or an employer’s decency to allow them to ‘down tools’, sometimes with very little notice. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

There is a bizarre anomaly that an employed, expectant father has the right to take paid leave to attend the last two antenatal classes before their baby’s birth – but not to be at the birth itself.

The Maternity Protection Act 1994-2004 gives fathers the statutory right regarding those classes, but there is no paternity legislation covering the birth and beyond.

The only other entitlement for fathers under that Act is not one they would want to contemplate: to take over the mother’s maternity leave if she dies during it.

To attend the actual birth and to take time off in the days afterwards, a father is at the mercy of workplace agreements or an employer’s decency to allow them to “down tools”, sometimes with very little notice.

Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU not to have any statutory paternity leave, paid or unpaid, although it is hoped the forthcoming Family Leave Bill will finally address this. Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has publicly backed the idea of paid leave for fathers but the National Women’s Council and Ictu are adamant that there should be no sharing of existing maternity leave as proposed in Fianna Fáil’s Paternity Leave Bill, published by its jobs spokeswoman Senator Mary White.

Currently, there is provision for men to apply for up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave.

Like many men, Cormac McCann didn’t look for time off to attend antenatal classes with his wife because they went to classes in the evening. An engineer working as a production manager, he did go to some of her medical appointments but didn’t have to take time off for those. He was there for the birth of their first child, at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, after his wife was induced at 37 weeks, but couldn’t get time off afterwards.

“I was supposed to get a few days of paternity leave when Aoife was born, but I was working in a very small company, which was having difficulties at the time and I ended up going into work,” he recalls.

That was seven years ago. Two more children later – aged four and 20 months – he is a stay-at-home dad, author of the “beingAoifesdad” blog but now looking to return to work outside the home.

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