Our proposed reforms are about improving work-life balance while providing job protection for working parents.
In our Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 we propose to extend unpaid parental leave for parents from the current four months to six months.
This longer period of childcare leave protects the employment rights of parents while allowing them to spend more time with their children.
For parents with pre-school children in particular, unpaid parental leave might often be a more economical alternative to paying for formal childcare.
Childcare costs as barrier
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.
This reform is about improving work-life balance for parents, encouraging women to remain in the workforce and helping reduce childcare costs.
Parents can spread the 6 months (26 weeks) of unpaid work leave out over the years until their children reach the age of eight.
This time can be used to cover mid-terms or school summer holidays – or simply to maximise parents’ time with their children in their early years.
If parents have already taken all of their existing parental leave, they will be allowed an extra 8 weeks under our Bill – once they still have a qualifying child.
Our proposals are a win-win for working parents, for employers and for children.
Extra leave helps with preventing absenteeism – when children are sick or have appointments.
It also helps employers to hold on to key employees – evidence suggests that many working mothers in particular don’t return to work after having children because formal childcare is too costly.
Of course, children themselves benefit greatly from additional time spent with their parents in their early years in particular.
And parents who are less stressed with the demands of work and family life are able to devote more quality time to raising their children.
Unpaid leave is not a substitute for paid parental leave, which the Social Democrats fully support up until 12 months
Instead, it is a complimentary form of parental leave that offers parents additional flexibility in the work-life balance.
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.
We 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.
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.