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TD calls for increase in maternity and paternity leave entitlements

3 November, 2004


Cost of childcare making this state increasingly uncompetitive

In closing the debate on the Sinn Féin Private Members motion on Childcare Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan TD reiterated the Party's call for maternity leave entitlements in this state to be increased to 26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid to enable the new mother to care for their baby during the first year. He also said that childcare costs were playing their part in making the state "increasingly uncompetitive".

Deputy Morgan said, "This motion reiterates Sinn Féin‚s call for maternity leave entitlements in this state to be increase to 26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid to enable the new mother to care for their baby during the first year, as is the situation in the North. We are also seeking equivalent increases in adoptive leave entitlements.

"For leave entitlements to play a real part in enabling parents to have the choice to care for their children in their first year of life benefits covering close to full wage replacements must be paid. In this motion we call for an immediate increase of maternity leave to 80% of wages. However there also needs to be a commitment to raising this to 100% of wages by getting employers to pull their weight in respect of maternity benefit. Currently it only covers 70% of a woman's salary and the minimum payment of €135.60 a week is disgracefully low. Its derisory level is a huge barrier to women in low paid employment who may wish to take up their full maternity leave entitlements."

Deputy Morgan went on to criticise Government policy in relation to childcare saying it was making the state "increasingly uncompetitive." He said, "The exorbitant cost of childcare has already been outlined by my party colleagues. It is important to note that the cost of childcare and the lack of available childcare is making this state increasingly uncompetitive. Government failure to ensure the provision of affordable accessible childcare and indeed their failure to tackle house price increase naturally has the effect of driving wage demands. This government is pursuing a policy of wage restraints in exchange for tax cuts while the root causes of wage demands such as the lack of affordability of necessities such childcare are being ignored." ENDS

Full text follows.

"This Government claims it is committed to promoting work life balance. It claims it is making progress in relation to childcare. I challenge any member of the Government to make this claim to the parents of the 220 children currently on the waiting list of the Holy Family Parish Community crèche in Dundalk; to the women who have found themselves forced to give up their employment to care for their children because their wages do not even cover the costs of childcare and to the young mothers who were forced out of education and training because of the cuts in VTOS childcare grants.

"Having children has in this state become something which involves great financial and other difficulties for would-be parents. Couples who are already over-stretched attempting to pay huge mortgages as a result of the price of housing face extreme difficulties if they chose to have children. They cannot afford to lose one wage by one parent choosing to give up employment to look after the children yet childcare costs, if they manage to secure a childcare place for their child, will eat up most of that wage particularly if they chose to have more than only one child. Any parent attempting to reconcile work and family life today will tell you of the amount of stress which is caused as a result of the childcare crisis.

Work life balance & leave entitlements

"I would specifically like to address the issue of leave entitlements for mothers and fathers which are a crucial instruments for creating work life balance and for creating a real alternative to out-of-home care for infants in particular, and also for toddlers. Maternity, paternity and parental leave and benefit policies can help parents reconcile the competing claims of work and family life following the birth or adoption of a child and enable all parents who wish to do so to care for their children at least in the first year of their lives.

"The government claims that the provision of statutory entitlements through legislative measures is part of its approach to achieving the goal of making workplaces more family friendly yet this state ranked bottom of the list along with Greece and Luxembourg in terms of statutory maternity pay levels and maternity leave in an international global analysis of employment conditions and benefits in 60 countries which was published in 2003.

"As the motion which we have brought forwarded states it should be a an immediate objectives to enable parents who wish to do so to care for their children in the first year of their lives. This can be quiet easily achieved through increasing maternity leave, introducing paid paternity leave and introducing payments in respect of parental leave.

"This motion reiterates Sinn Féin's call for maternity leave entitlements in this state to be increase to 26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid to enable the new mother to care for their baby during the first year, as is the situation in the North. We are also seeking equivalent increases in adoptive leave entitlements.

"For leave entitlements to play a real part in enabling parents to have the choice to care for their children in their first year of life benefits covering close to full wage replacements must be paid. In this motion we call for an immediate increase of maternity leave to 80% of wages. However there also needs to be a commitment to raising this to 100% of wages by getting employers to pull their weight in respect of maternity benefit. Currently it only covers 70% of a woman's salary and the minimum payment of €135.60 a week is disgracefully low. Its derisory level is a huge barrier to women in low paid employment who may wish to take up their full maternity leave entitlements.

"We are also calling for the introduction of paid paternity leave because while parental leave remains unpaid it will never reach its potential take-up. Currently there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state. Fathers north of the border are entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave and we are asking for the introduction of the same entitlements in this state. Incidentally I noticed the Government did not even mention paternity leave in its counter motion ˆ further evidence if we need it of the fact that the Government is not committed to enabling fathers to play an active part in the raising of their children.

"Paternity leave, term time, flexitime, special leave for domestic circumstances, unpaid leave to deal with domestic difficulties and career breaks are all available for workers in the civil service but we must ensure that workers in the private sector also have access to such entitlements which can hugely increase the ability of workers to balance work and family life.

Cost of childcare and Competitiveness

"The exorbitant cost of childcare has already been outlined by my party colleagues. It is important to note that the cost of childcare and the lack of available childcare is making this state increasingly uncompetitive. Government failure to ensure the provision of affordable accessible childcare and indeed their failure to tackle house price increase naturally has the effect of driving wage demands. This government is pursuing a policy of wage restraints in exchange for tax cuts while the root causes of wage demands such as the lack of affordability of necessities such childcare are being ignored.

"Why is it that those countries with advanced childcare models, such as the Nordic countries, which support real work life balance are more or equally competitive as this state despite having far far higher levels of corporation tax? Part of the reason is because universal access to childcare and generous leave entitlements are helping the competitiveness of their economies while the development of quality childcare is self-financing through increased tax returns from women's work and less dependency on social security.

"It is clear that increasing funding for an expanded Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme as outlined in the motion would be of economic benefit to this state. It is also essential that childcare services deliver through CE schemes be mainstreamed. I am glad the Minister Lenihan accepted in his contribution last night that community based services in areas of disadvantage will require ongoing contribution towards staffing costs and would welcome an announcement from the government stating clearly that community facilities will be assured the ongoing subsidies which they require.

Conclusion

"In conclusion we have brought forward this motion because of the very little attention these issues are receive in the Houses of the Oireachtas and because of Sinn Féin's commitment to putting in place early childhood education and care policies which supports both the educational and social needs of young children and their families.

"Access to state-run universal preschool for children aged 3 to compulsory school entry, a separate programme for under 3‚s and the provision of parental, maternity and paternity leave which is comprehensive, generous and flexible and which facilitates work life balance are the core tenets of Sinn Fein‚s childcare policy. Childcare and work life balance policies need to be driven by the criteria of what is in the public good and the recognition that the rights of the child must be paramount.

"Early childhood education and care must be available to all children from the age of three because they are good for children regardless of their parents employment status or ability to pay. They enhance children‚s development and prepare them for entry to formal primary school as well providing care for those children whose parents are in employment or education.

"I call on the Government to take on board the points outlined in the Sinn Féin motion and commit the finance and resources necessary to address the difficulties faced by parent struggling to earn a living while seeking to ensure the best care for their children.

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