The Government has given a commitment to introduce statutory bereavement leave for women experiencing early miscarriage and for couples seeking IVF treatment, but “it needs time”, the Seanad has been told.
Minister of State for Enterprise Damien English said it is an equality issue and Minister for Equality Roderic O'Gorman will take the lead on the matter.
Mr English was responding to the introduction of a Labour party Bill to provide up to 20 days’ paid leave for women who experience early miscarriage and up to 10 days’ paid leave for any employee who needs time off work to avail of IVF or other reproductive health-related treatment.
The Government did not oppose the Bill and during the debate Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney said she believed the leave would be provided for within the lifetime of this Government as she outlined her own experience of IVF treatment and miscarriage.
“I’ve been there 13 times, personally and one via surrogacy. It is an exciting, frightening, emotional rollercoaster and in that place I’ve experienced five miscarriages and the joy of the birth of our daughter via surrogacy.”
Ms Seery Kearney said that “in the devastation of pregnancy loss” couples need time off together “to experience the physical and emotional loss” of miscarriage. “Couples entering IVF should be able to spend time in the physical and emotional head and heart space, away from the concerns of normal life.”
Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said that "for those of us who have been through a miscarriage or fertility treatment, we know the secrecy, sadness and pressure to keep things looking normal on the outside even if we are falling apart inside.
“We also know that very raw desire for privacy at a time when a woman can feel so vulnerable.
“We want to protect ourselves in a world where so many others can seemingly so easily get pregnant and stay pregnant and we want to prevent others from talking about us in piteous tones.”
Introducing The Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill, Senator Ivana Bacik said the legislation "is very much about choice and doesn't place any onus on employees to speak out".
Stressing that the Bill was a “workplace measure for men and for women”, she said there was a “glaring absence” in statutory leave laws and workplace protection laws.
“For women who suffer the grief of an early miscarriage, or any women or men who have to take time off work to access IVF or other fertility treatments, there is no provision for leave in law.
“Indeed, they currently have to take annual leave, sick leave or unpaid days in order to attend appointments or to recover physically and emotionally from an early miscarriage.”
She pointed to legislation passed in New Zealand in March by the government of Jacinda Ardern, to provide leave for employees who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Ms Bacik said her party’s Bill and the New Zealand legislation have “ignited a conversation about the need to face up to the complexity of fertility and reproductive health issues, and the need for the State to provide practical recognition for the role it plays in employees’ lives”.
Figures show that some 14,000 pregnancies end in miscarriage every year and there is already provision for leave for late-term miscarriages above six months, she said.
Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said he welcomed the proposal for compassionate leave for miscarriage but said it would be strange to introduce the measure without without also granting such leave for the loss of a spouse, infant child or older child, for which there is currently no statutory leave.
The Minister said such leave should also be provided for and that was why time was needed to ensure no anomalies in providing reproductive healthcare leave.
Mr English said a lot of employers “try to get it right” on these issues but many small businesses have difficulty with the financial aspects.
“We have to have the balance of the State supporting employers” who have difficulty with the financial burden of such leave.