Call for debate on four-day week for working parents

TD makes call as 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave increases to 22 from September

The unpaid parental leave increases from 18 weeks to 22 next month. Photograph: iStock/Getty

The unpaid parental leave increases from 18 weeks to 22 next month. Photograph: iStock/Getty

 

Renewed calls have been made for consideration to be given to greater availability of a four-day week for working parents as extended parental leave comes into effect from next month.

Additional unpaid time off for parents and guardians increases from 18 weeks to 22 from September 1st and will rise again to 26 weeks from September 2020.

This follows the passage of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill introduced in 2017 by Social Democrats TD Rosin Shortall and passed with Government agreement before the summer recess.

As parents and guardians were urged to apply for an additional four weeks of leave, Ms Shortall said “most parents take the existing leave and plan to take the additional leave to enable them to work a four-day week”.

And she re-iterated her call made during the Dáil discussion of the legislation for a debate on “the idea of a four-day week becoming more widely available as in some Nordic countries”.

The Dublin North West TD said that “several companies in different countries are offering this so that parents can strike a better work-life balance and thereby reduce stress and absenteeism and achieve better productivity”.

The qualifying age of children has also been extended from eight to 12 for parental leave, which matches EU guidelines.

Parents who have already taken some or all of the current 18 weeks leave and who have children up to 12 years of age will also be eligible to take the extra four weeks from next month.

Parental leave may be taken up to a child’s 16th birthday where the child has a disability or long-term illness.

The changes will improve Ireland’s European standing as the State currently offers one of the lowest levels of parental leave in the EU.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has signed the commencement order for the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act which was passed by the Seanad and Dáil.

Minister of State for Justice David Stanton, who steered the legislation through the Oireachtas, welcomed the cross-party co-operation with the Social Democrats and other parties to pass the legislation.

He mentioned a new social insurance-based paid leave scheme that comes into effect from November. The scheme provides two weeks’ paid leave to both parents – €245 a week through social insurance – in addition to the two weeks’ paternity leave scheme that started in 2016.

Some 24,080 fathers availed of the scheme last year and 13,583 in the first six months of this year.

The act allows for leave to be taken in blocks of one week at a time but this has to be in agreement with the employer, who cannot force an employee to take leave in a single large block of more than six weeks.

The amended legislation alters the original 1998 Act providing unpaid leave of 14 weeks for parents of children up to the age of five.

In 2006, it was extended to parents of children up to eight years of age and in 2013 regulations were introduced to extend the leave from 14 to 18 weeks.