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Social Democrats’ bill to increase parental leave to six months goes to committee tomorrow

A Social Democrats’ private members’ bill to enable working parents to spend more time caring for their children goes to committee stage tomorrow, Wednesday 16th May.

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 allows parents to take a total of six months (26 weeks) unpaid leave from their jobs without their employment rights being affected. This is an increase on the current maximum of four months (18 weeks) of unpaid parental leave per child – the minimum allowable under EU law.

The government and main opposition parties have shown their support for the Bill – and the Social Democrats are confident it will pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

The party’s co-leader Róisín Shortall TD said:

“This Bill is about giving parents the option of taking more unpaid time off work to care for their children, if that suits them and makes economic sense.

“For parents with pre-school children in particular, unpaid parental leave might be a more economical alternative to paying for formal childcare. Childcare costs can prove a huge barrier for women to return to the workforce – in some cases, women return simply to keep their job rather than gaining any extra income.

“Only a handful of private members’ bills have actually made it into law, and we are very hopeful that our proposals to help working families will very soon be among these.”

The Social Democrats’ spokesperson on Children, Councillor Jennifer Whitmore, added:

“For employers who are keen to retain women workers, our proposals offer increased flexibility around work schedules. That could make the difference between mothers staying in their jobs as productive members of the workforce, or quitting out of exhaustion and stress.

“Parents can spread the 26 weeks of unpaid leave out over the years while their children are in primary school. They can use it to cover mid-terms or school summer holidays or simply maximise time with their children in their first year. This reform is about improving work-life balance for parents, encouraging women to remain in the workforce and helping reduce childcare costs.”

Notes to Editors:

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 extends unpaid parental leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks for all parents with children under 8 years. The Social Democrats will table an amendment during tomorrow’s committee hearing to raise the qualifying age from 8 to 12. This reflects the age recommended last year by the European Commission and, if accepted, will mean many more parents will qualify.

Ireland’s laws on parental leave derive almost entirely from EU legislation. While we are allowed to go beyond these, Ireland has adopted a leave period just above the minimum number of weeks set down under EU law.

The Social Democrats are committed to the introduction of paid parental leave, and proposed such a move in each of our alternative Budget proposals for Budgets 2016, 2017 & 2018. Under Dáil rules, opposition parties are prevented from proposing Bills where there is a cost to the State. This is why we have focused on unpaid parental leave in this Bill.

Ireland is well behind other countries when it comes to parental leave. Many countries allow parents four sets of leave – maternity, paternity, parental, and childcare/carers. According to the European Commission, the average duration of combined maternity and parental leave among Member States is 97.8 weeks. In Ireland the maximum for a woman is only 60 and it’s only 20 for a man