Parental leave set to rise from two weeks to five weeks

Family Leave Bill will apply to male same sex couples and adoptive parents

Parental leave with social welfare benefit is to increase from two to five weeks and will apply to both parents and to adoptive parents under legislation introduced by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman.

The Family Leave Bill will also allow adoptive couples to choose which parent avails of the current allowed 24 weeks’ leave with benefit and removes a “significant” anomaly which left married male same-sex couples unable to avail of adoptive leave. The parent who does not avail of adoptive leave is entitled to paternity leave, Mr O’Gorman said in the Seanad.

“The proposals will also remove the presumption that the adoptive mother be the primary caregiver and permit families to choose the best option for their family,” Mr O’Gorman said.

The legislation also provides for the number of members on the board of Child and Family Agency Tusla to increase from five to nine.

Current adoptive leave law entitles an employed adoptive mother or single adopting father to 24 weeks’ leave. An additional 16 weeks unpaid leave may also be taken.

The Minister highlighted the serious impact of Covid-19 “across society and on working parents, especially those who have had children during the pandemic. They have had to bear a heavy burden, often without the support of family and friends.

“The extension to parent’s leave and benefit is intended to provide them with an additional period of leave to spend with their child. An important facet of parent’s leave is to encourage the sharing of childcare.”

Green Party Senator Pauline Reilly said the Bill was about adults' work life balance but she said the time that children spent with their parents has to be the focus "when we are talking about anything to do with childcare".

It was “also about the rights of the people being cared for to have an unhurried life. I refer to a life where we are not running to stand still, where we are not dropping children first thing in the morning or, in many cases here, for several days and coming back to them”.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen welcomed the Bill but said the "problem at the heart of family policy in Ireland" is that it is "devoted to conscripting mothers and fathers into the workplace".

He noted the adoptive provision for male same sex couples but said that he believed and nobody should have to apologise for believing that policy should always aim to be based on a child being brought up by a mother and father while allowing for “different” situations, because “that is the reality”.

Childcare

Meanwhile, moves to formally address pay and conditions for those working in early learning and childcare sectors have been welcomed as a “clear path” toward improvements.

On Friday, it emerged that Mr O’Gorman had brought forward recommendations for a Joint Labour Committee (JLC) on the subject.

He set out the proposal in a letter to Minister of State for Business Damien English.

A JLC would examine pay and conditions in the early learning and care (ELC) and school-age childcare (SAC) sector.

The trade union Siptu, which was involved in eight weeks of talks on the matter alongside employers’ group Ibec, welcomed the recommendation saying, if established, it could pave the way for negotiations “which could ultimately establish long-awaited binding rates of pay and conditions for the sector”.

“The reality is poverty pay is undermining quality for children and leaves qualified professionals struggling to make ends meet,” said Siptu head of organising Darragh O’Connor.

The eight week consultation process initiated by the Minister was independently chaired by Dr Kevin Duffy, former chair of the Labour Court.

Mr O’Gorman said there was “still a distance to travel” but that the formal recommendation was “an important milestone in our journey towards improved pay and conditions”.

Early years manager and Siptu member Eilish Balfe noted that she had received just one pay rise in 13 years.

“Now, for the first time there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have campaigned, we have marched, we have stood up for our sector and now we can achieve a pay deal that recognises our work and professionalism.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times