Split parental leave ‘could take five years to implement’

Childcare group warns on timeline as Ibec raises concerns about costs to business sector

Teresa Heeney, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, said one year’s paid parental leave should be only one element of reform package

Teresa Heeney, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, said one year’s paid parental leave should be only one element of reform package

 

The proposal, for the first year of a child’s life, is under consideration as part of a new childcare package from Minister for Children Dr James Reilly. Concerns have been raised about the idea by employers’ group Ibec.

A move on parental leave may be a part of the election manifesto for a second term of office, as an element of a broader childcare strategy to be implemented over a number of years. It would have to be agreed across Government, with some Coalition sources saying it has yet to be even discussed.

Senior Government sources repeated yesterday that the immediate priority remained after-school care, with shared parental leave a matter for the latter half of a second term in office, “resources allowing”.

Bonus weeks

Choosing to split the year – which could be divided however the parents wish – may also entitle them to bonus weeks of leave to encourage each parent to spend as much time as possible with their child during its first year. The move is likely to replace the current maternity leave.

Teresa Heeney, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, an umbrella group representing 3,500 childcare professionals, welcomed the idea but said parental leave should be only one element of reform.

She estimated the introduction of the proposed leave changes would take five years, with an overall childcare reform package costing €500 million.

“You would be looking at an entire term of government,” said Ms Heeney, who predicted that childcare would be “a big election issue”.

“The extension of parental leave to one year over the next five years would reflect international evidence that confirms that young children do better in their first year when they are at home with parents.

“Parents would welcome such a policy shift as well and we welcome the proposal that some of the time would be shared among parents.”

Another measure under consideration as part of Dr Reilly’s group is a reversal of cuts to State funding to childcare and increasing the money provided by the exchequer to above its previous levels.

As part of the free pre- school year provided by the State, childcare providers are paid capitation grants, but these were cut by the Coalition in its first budget in December 2011. The capitation payments to childcare providers lost 3 per cent in cuts that took effect from September 2012. Ms Heeney also called for the cuts to be reversed.

Maeve McElwee of Ibec said any additional costs for employers must be considered.

Significant costs

“It is an interesting proposal, if the Government feel they are in a position to fund it.

“The concern we would have is around costs that accrue to business from proposals such as these,” she added.

“I’m making the assumption that we are talking about social welfare being paid. We would like recognition that there are significant costs to businesses.”

This would include the administrative costs to two businesses dealing with the leave taken by each parent as well as “other and more significant costs” such as recruitment, replacement and training to fill temporary vacancies, Ms McElwee said.