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Failure to introduce payment for parental leave unacceptable - Morgan

27 October, 2005


Sinn Féin spokesperson on Employment and Workers Rights Arthur Morgan has said, “A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create.” Speaking on the Parental Leave Bill in the Dáil today he said, “This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis.”

Deputy Morgan said, “This Government lacks an overall vision as to how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.   Rather this issue is considered purely from a business and economic perspective – what to do with the children while their parents are performing their duties as cogs in the economic machine.  A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create.   

“Parental care for children must be a key element in childcare strategy.  We must work to enable parents, where it is their preference, to care for their children in the early years of their lives.   This is in the interest of both children and parents.   Parental Leave is an important tool in the attempt to help workers achieve a balance between work and family life.  It is also plays an important role in an overall childcare strategy.  This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis.  

“The failure to introduce payment in respect of parental leave in this state contrasts with the situation in many other EU member states. This is the case in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden.   Why is this state so backward.  Is it because of the excessive influence of business on government?

“The inability of workers to achieve work life balance and the failure of the state to enable them to achieve this is a growing cause of workplace stress.  This is ultimately bad for business, bad for employers and of course bad for workers.”

On the issue of Paternity leave Deputy Morgan said, “It is quite incredible that in this day and age there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state.   A new father cannot take as much as one day off when his child is born.  This is truly scandalous and I find it hard to understand how the government can stand over this situation.  Then again when Frank Fahy is responsible for the equality portfolio what should we expect? A man was never more unsuited to his portfolio of equality.” ENDS

Full speech follows: 

Delay in bring forward legislation

Why has it taken so long for this legislation to come before the Dáil?  This legislation seeks to implement a commitment made under the Sustaining Progress Agreement 2003-2005.  The term of that agreement is now over.  Negotiations on a new agreement were due to start shortly.  What is the point of commitments in partnership agreements if these commitments are not going to be met within the timeframe of the agreement?  It is no wonder that the unions are more reticent than ever to enter partnership when they have to wait this long for the implementation of such a meager commitment.

Vision for how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.

This Government lacks an overall vision as to how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.   Rather this issue is considered purely from a business and economic perspective – what to do with the children while their parents are performing their duties as cogs in the economic machine.  Progress on work life balance takes place at a pace dictated by shadowy figures from within IBEC.   The ultimate problem is that leave entitlements and childcare policies are driven not by a social vision of the kind of society we want to create.

A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create. 

Parental care for children must be a key element in childcare strategy.  We must work to enable parents, where it is their preference, to care for their children in the early years of their lives.   This is in the interest of both children and parents.   Parental Leave is an important tool in attempt to help workers achieve a balance between work and family life.  It is also plays an important role in an overall childcare strategy.  This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis. 

Paid parental leave

According to the MORI MRC survey, which was carried out as part of the review carried out by the Maternity Leave working group established in 2001, almost 7% of the labour force were eligible for parental leave in 2001.  Only 20% of eligible employees were estimated to have taken up the parental leave

This very low take up rate should be of concern to government.  If the government was genuinely committed to parental leave and believed in its beneficiallity  for both children and parents it would promote it and seek to encourage maximum take up. 

According to the MORI MRC survey employees rated spending more quality time with their children as the biggest advantage in taking parental leave, while the biggest disadvantage was the lack of payment.

Clearly then the absence of a payment in respect of parental leave is the primary factor in the lack of take-up. 

So why then is the government not amending the legislation to introduce payment in respect of parental leave.  This is the biggest barrier to take up of the leave.  It is also the case that the current situation favours the better off who can afford to take the leave. It is of no value to low income families for whom it would be unimaginable to forgo income for the duration of the leave.

The failure to introduce payment in respect of parental leave in this state contrasts with the situation in many other EU member states,.  This is the case in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden.   Why is this state so backward.  Is it because of the excessive influence of business on government?

The research referred to above also found that employers considered that the biggest advantage  of parental leave to them came from happier, more contented employees.  The inability of workers to achieve work life balance and the failure of the state to enable them to achieve this is a growing cause of workplace stress.  This is ultimately bad for business, bad for employers and of course bad for workers. 

Paternity Leave

The Review group report stated that paternity leave should be dealt with as part of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act.  Yet this Bill does not deal with it.

It is quite incredible that in this day and age there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state.   A new father cannot take as much as one day off when his child is born.  This is truly scandalous and I find it hard to understand how the government can stand over this situation.  Then again when Franck Fahy is responsible for the equality portfolio what should we expect?

A man was never more unsuited to his portfolio of equality - his ties to business are a little too close to think he would ever wish to put up any challenge to IBEC.  It is not hard to guess whose interest he serves.  And let me make it clear now that I am not interested in hearing waffle from Minister of State Fahy regarding why we cant do this because of social partnership. 

Ireland ranks bottom of the list in terms of Paternity leave. Most countries in the EU offer paid paternity leave, from two days in Spain to two weeks in France, while in Norway new fathers are entitled to a full four weeks. Fathers north of the border are entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave yet in this state there is no entitlement at all. 

This situation simply cannot be allowed to go on.   Sinn Fein is demanding the immediate introduction of 2 weeks paternity leave.  This is the minimum of what father should be entitled to. The reality is that we are talking of very little time.  Given that most families nowadays only have 2 children, we are talking of 10 days twice in a lifetime.  Yet these days are vital to allow fathers to offer necessary support to mothers in the first days of their children lives and in giving fathers the time to bond with their children.  We should be facilitating fathers playing an active role in their children’s lives.  Are we to persist in being backward in regard to this because IBEC doesn’t like the idea of paternity leave? 

Increased flexibility in the manner which parental leave can be taken

The element of greater flexibility in how parental leave can be taken is to be welcomed though it does not really go far enough

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions are proposing that the legislation be amended to provide employees with a right to request more flexible parental leave arrangement  and to oblige employers to seriously consider the request and further provide that refusal of the employees request should only be permitted where the employer can provide evidence of a compelling business case for refusals.  This is an eminently reasonable proposal which I would expect the Government to accede to.

Other issues

There are a number of other brief points which I would like to make in relation to the Bill

With regard to force majeure leave workers who are in same sex relationships should be entitled to the force majeure leave from their employers  in the vent of serious illness to their partners in the same way as other couples.  Sustaining Progress has committed that “steps necessary to give effect to the issue of force majeure leave for same sex partners will be addressed”.  It is utterly unacceptable that this Bill fails to fulfil that commitment. 

Also force majeure needs to be extended to deal with other situations where parents must leave work where issues arise in relation to children and childcare. Given the time constraint I will deal with this issue in greater detail at Committee stage.  

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