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Written Answers. - Employment Regulations.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 201. Mr. Connaughton Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton  asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs Information on Dermot Ahern Zoom on Dermot Ahern  if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of many women who, during maternity leave, must accept a much lower level of income when their employer will not provide financial facilities for them; if other employees in the public sector receive their normal pay cheque less maternity benefit received from his Department; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a number of employers in the private sector do not provide financial assistance during this period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10649/02]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern Zoom on Dermot Ahern Under the terms of the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, as amended by regulations last year, pregnant workers are entitled to 18 weeks unpaid leave from their employers. Employees can also qualify for an additional eight weeks leave, but since this does not attract any payment, I am only dealing with the 18 week period in this reply.

There is no statutory obligation requiring the continuation of wages during the 18 weeks of maternity leave. Therefore, the question of payment by employers during such leave, as in the case of other types of leave, including sick leave, are matters for negotiation between the employers and employees involved.

However, where a woman is entitled to [870] maternity leave and has sufficient PRSI contributions she may qualify for maternity benefit from my Department.

While no comprehensive data is available, it is understood that most public sector employers and many of the larger private sector employers continue paying wages during maternity leave. In general, such employers pay the difference between the woman's normal wages and any maternity benefit payable.

Weekly social insurance benefits are, in general, paid on a flat-rate basis and comprise a personal allowance, together with additions for qualified adults and children. For instance, the personal rate of the main social insurance payments for temporary periods of absence from the workforce, i.e. disability and unemployment benefit, is €118.80 a week.

However, the maternity benefit scheme differs from other weekly social welfare payments in that it is an earnings-related payment, but subject to a minimum and maximum payment. The purpose of this payment is to provide women with an adequate income during the maternity leave period.

The level of maternity benefit is set at 70% of the woman's earnings in the relevant income tax year, subject to a minimum payment of €135.60 a week and a maximum payment of €232.40 a week. However, unlike other social welfare payments, maternity benefit is not taxable. In addition, if the employer does not pay any wages for the maternity leave period, then the woman will generally be entitled to an income tax refund for that period.

If social insurance payments were to be made fully earnings-related then this would involve a substantial increase in expenditure on these schemes. This in turn would require a significant increase in the current levels of PRSI contribution payable in order to fund the additional costs involved. By way of illustration, the level of social insurance contributions payable in EU countries where the benefits provided are earnings-related, e.g. France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, range between 10% and 43% in the case of the employee contribution and between 20% and 45% in the case of the employer contribution. The equivalent social insurance contribution rates in this country are 4% in the case of employees and 10.75% in the case of employers.

Any increases in the level of social welfare payments payable, including maternity benefit, are matters for consideration in a budgetary context, having regard to available resources and in the light of the Government's other priorities.

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