Social Democrats introduce bill to increase parental leave to six months

February 8, 2018

The Social Democrats today bring before the Dáil a Bill that gives working parents the opportunity to spend more time caring for their children.

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 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 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave per child aged up to eight years old – the minimum allowable under EU law. The government has indicated that it will not oppose the Bill, which will be taken at second stage today.

Not substitute for paid parental leave

Unpaid parental leave is not a substitute for paid parental leave, which the Social Democrats wish to see paid to parents for 12 months. Instead, it is a complimentary form of parental leave that offers parents additional flexibility in terms of work-life balance.

Under Dáil rules, opposition parties are prevented from proposing Bills where there is a cost to the State. This is why today’s Bill focuses on unpaid parental leave.

Speaking ahead of the introduction of the Bill in the Dáil today, Róisín Shortall said:

“Working parents lead very busy lives and are under constant pressure to do the best they can for their children whilst also holding down jobs so that they can pay their bills. Our Bill is about giving parents the option of taking more unpaid time off work to care for their children, if that is their wish and it makes economic sense for them.

“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.

Improving work-life balance

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

“Parents can spread the 26 weeks of unpaid leave out over the years until their children reach the age of eight. 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.

“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.”

8 February 2018

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.

If parents have already taken all of their parental leave, they will be allowed an extra 8 weeks under the Bill – once they still have a qualifying child.

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’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.

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 this is only 60.

The Social Democrats also support raising the child qualifying age for unpaid leave to 12 years old, in line with EU developments since our Bill was published. We will bring forward proposals in this regard when the Bill reaches committee stage.

ENDS