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Families and Work: A Chance for Change

September 29, 2014

Families and WorkBalancing work and family life is an on-going struggle, especially for the many families who cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Following hard-won campaigns, progress has been made in Ireland in the last 15 years in extending Maternity Benefit to 26 weeks. But once a child is 6 months old, parents in Ireland have little or no support.

On 25 September, Start Strong, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the National Women's Council of Ireland joined forces to host a seminar on parental leave, paternity leave and the balancing of work and family life. Our three organisations draw together a range of perspectives in designing policy on family leave: children, mothers, fathers, and workers.

The seminar - titled Families and Work - A Chance for Change - focused particularly on the forthcoming Family Leave Bill, which the Government has said will be published in the coming months. The seminar aimed to open up public debate on what the Bill should contain.

The keynote speaker at the seminar was Professor Peter Moss, chair of the International Network on Leave Policies and Research, who put current Irish provision in international context.

Professor Moss pointed out that, while Ireland's 26 weeks of Maternity Benefit is relatively long in European terms, the lack of paid parental leave in Ireland means that Ireland lags well behind other European countries. Across Europe as a whole, on average families have 15 months of well-paid family leave available to them.

And Ireland is one of a handful of European countries that has no statutory entitlement to paternity leave at all. 2 weeks of paid paternity leave is the average across Europe.

The seminar was also addressed by two Government Ministers: the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, and the Minister of State for New Communities, Culture and Equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD.

Both Ministers spoke positively about the positive opportunity created by the forthcoming Family Leave Bill. Minister Frances Fitzgerald specifically spoke about the possible introduction of paternity leave, and the need to support fathers who want to play a more active role in caring for young children.

Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called for a "value change" and stated explicitly that family leave will be "at the top of my agenda" during the 18 months ahead of him as Minister with responsibility for equality issues.

Over the next few months, the organisers of the seminar will continue the campaign for stronger family leave provision. Further information will be posted on our campaign website: www.familyleave.net, and will also be shared in this newsletter.

Key issues on which we will be campaigning include:

  1. Introducing a new entitlement to Paid Leave for Parents, to be taken at the end of Maternity Leave, and available to either parent. The duration could be increased incrementally, with the aim of achieving at least 12 months’ total paid leave.
  2. Promoting the sharing of care roles through reserving at least 1 month of the new Paid Leave for Parents for fathers as a “father’s quota”.
  3. Introducing 2 weeks’ paid Paternity Leave, available to a partner at the time of the birth of a child, to be taken concurrently with Maternity Leave.
  4. Extending the right to request flexible working arrangements to all parents with young children (0-6), with the aim of progressively extending this right to all family carers.
  5. Extending the length of time after birth when mothers can take breaks at work to breastfeed to at least 12 months.

You can read Professor Moss's presentation here.

Also, an article by Professor Moss appeared on the morning of the seminar in the Irish Times. You can read the article here.

The speech by the Minister for Justice and Equality is available here.