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Government urged to introduce Family Leave Bill - May 2013

10 March 2013 - Government urged to move quickly to introduce Family Leave Bill

Start Strong, National Women’s Council and ICTU welcome Government’s action to introduce EU’s Parental Leave Directive and call on Government to bring in Paternity Leave and more flexible work arrangements.

Start Strong – a coalition of organisations and individuals seeking to advance children’s early care and education in Ireland – the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have welcomed the Government’s announcement on Friday that it has introduced the EU Parental Leave Directive into Irish law. The three organisations are also jointly calling on the Government to move quickly to introduce the promised Family Leave Bill.

Start Strong’s Acting Director, Toby Wolfe, explained the difference that the introduction of the Parental Leave Directive will now make.

“Currently in Ireland maternity leave is paid for 26 weeks with an additional 16 weeks unpaid also being available. In addition to this, 14 weeks’ unpaid parental leave is available for both mothers and fathers up until the child is aged 8 years. With the introduction of the Directive into Irish law last Friday, unpaid parental leave will be extended from 14 to 18 weeks for each parent.

“Furthermore, the Directive provides that an employee returning to work from parental leave “may request changes to their work hours and/or patterns for a set period of time.” This ‘right to request’, however, bestows no obligation on employers to grant more flexible work practices.”

Start Strong, NWCI and ICTU noted that the Government has scheduled the introduction of a Family Leave Bill during the current Dáil session and they said that this Bill will provide the Government with an opportunity to further improve family leave provisions in Ireland and urged the Government to introduce this Bill as soon as possible.

In this context, Start Strong, NWCI and ICTU are proposing that the Government include the following provisions in the Family Leave Bill:

Introduce two weeks’ paid Paternity Leave for fathers;
Extend the right to request flexible work practices to all parents, regardless of whether they are returning from Parental Leave or not;
Extend the length of time after birth when mothers can take breaks at work to breastfeed beyond the current provision of six months to at least one year.

David Joyce, ICTU’s Equality Officer, said: “We hope that the examination of family leave that takes place in the context of the promised Bill will involve a much more fundamental look at rebalancing care duties so that men and women share in a much more equal fashion. A statutory right to Paternity Leave would be a start in this direction.”

On the issue of extending the period of time allowed to mothers to breastfeed, Ann Irwin, NWCI Policy Officer stated that: ”We all know the importance of breastfeeding and the social and health benefits to the child and the mother. Currently the legislation allows for up to an hour each day for mothers who have given birth within the previous six months. We are calling on the Government to bring this period of time into line with practice in other countries and extend it up to at least one year.”

Ann Irwin continued “We are also calling on the Government to place an obligation on employers to provide basic facilities to enable breastfeeding in the workplace – currently employers are not obliged to provide facilities in the workplace to facilitate breastfeeding if the provision of such facilities would give rise to considerable costs.”

The case for extending flexible work practices is strengthened by the findings of a recent survey carried out by Start Strong, the National Women’s Council or Ireland, Barnardos and OPEN, which indicates widespread support among parents for stronger work-life balance measures – 1,213 parents took part in the survey. When asked about their ideal preference for childcare, the most popular preference at 36% was to have access to more flexible work practices such as reduced hours and term-time leave.

Start Strong, NWCI and ICTU say that the family-friendly measures they are proposing would be a modest first step towards the development of ”a system of safe, affordable and accessible child care in place, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries” as advocated by the Minister for Social Protection and Family Affairs, Joan Burton TD.

Start Strong’s Toby Wolfe said: “The Scandinavian model of childcare combines family-friendly work policies and paid parental leave along with high quality early care and education services. Through combining maternity leave, paternity leave and paid parental leave, a parent is enabled to remain at home for at least a child’s first year in all the Scandinavian countries. We want Ireland to move towards this model of a year’s paid leave. Our current proposals are low-cost measures that would help move Ireland in the right direction.”

Mr Wolfe concluded: “Children’s first educators are their families. All families want to give their children a good start in life. The Government can help families to do this through making it easier for both mothers and fathers to combine work with their parenting roles.”

For more information please contact:
Christine at 085 1577127 or christine@montaguecomms.ie

Media coverage.

Industrial Relations News,15th March 2013, "Parental Leave Laws Gives Right to Request Flexible Working Hours". (No link available).

IrishExaminer.com,11th March 2013, "Groups call on Government to introduce Paternity leave". Read here.

BreakingNews.ie, 11th March 2013, "Groups call on Government to introduce Paternity Leave". Read here.

Week of 10th March - 15th March 2013, Radio Interviews on:
News Talk
Highland Radio
Shannonside Radio
Castlebar Radio
WLR FM
(No podcasts available).

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