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Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] However, as I pointed out earlier, this is something different. It is about that flexibility during a child's first 12 years. The other point I would make is that what the Minister of State is proposing in the amendment is entirely unreasonable. This Bill is proposing an additional eight weeks that can be spread over a 12-year period. As I have said earlier, and as others have said, this is a very modest proposal. It is not a new proposal. We did not have questions being raised about constitutional issues, employers taking us to court or whatever when the original 14 weeks entitlement was introduced nor when that entitlement to 14 weeks was increased to 18 weeks. None of these questions was raised at the time. It is accepted practice that when a new entitlement is introduced it will incrementally improve and increase over the years as we become, as a society, more progressive and, it is to be hoped, more family-friendly.

As I have said, this is not new. I cannot see a difficulty with it. We are talking about a substantial period over which the leave can be taken. What the Minister of State is proposing is that we move in baby steps in extending this entitlement. He is talking about phasing that modest eight weeks over the next four and a half years. For goodness sake, let us be reasonable about this. Let us recognise the difficulties and the important role parents have in looking after their children. Let us be fair and balanced about it. What the Minister of State is proposing is not acceptable by any standards. Certainly when it has been mooted in recent weeks the reaction to it from parents has been very negative. There has been a lot of activity on social media and I think we have all received representations from parents. It is just not on to talk about this modest development being stretched out over such a long period of time.

I hope that in the spirit of new politics and co-operation within the House, the Minister of State will recognise the strong views expressed by all other parties here. We want to facilitate parents and to do it in a reasonable and responsible way. That is what is being proposed. I cannot see there being too much support for what the Minister of State is proposing to do here because it is unreasonable.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I was very interested to listen to the Minister of State's comment that his preference is for - if I am quoting him right - one parent or both to be at home with all babies in the first year. I personally can see the attractiveness of that because I believe that children benefit tremendously from parents being at home. However, I have to be honest and say that we need to leave real choice. Every family is different and in some instances it may actually be better, because of a whole range of circumstances, for both parents to be working, even within the first year.

I was surprised at the Minister of State's comment in a sense because, from my perspective, the Government is all about labour activation. It is all about getting everyone to work. The Government is backed up in that by the European Union, the OECD, IBEC and ICTU. We saw the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, last week suggest that child benefit be taken off some groups of parents and the money put into childcare. I thought that would just accentuate the ongoing discrimination against parents in the home that I see in the system. It caught me in a sense when I heard that. We should not have any discrimination. We should leave as free a choice as possible to parents.

The attractiveness of this provision to extend parental leave is that it is not mandatory. Not everyone will take it. There may be people who choose not to take it for work reasons. Employees will have to decide and they may decide, for a whole variety of different reasons, that it is better for them to go back to work or that it is better for them not to. We need to give freedom of choice to parents. We should do that straight away. I do not think it will cripple the Irish economy. If anything it might help it in the long run. Giving choice and the freedom of choice is important. In respect of those who want to avail of the additional parental leave, I do not see why we should give some people the choice in four years' time but not next year. We should do it straight away. It is about flexibility and providing parents with the ability to choose what is best for them, and they invariably know what that is. In some instances that will be going back to work and in other instances it will be availing of this leave. The provision does not provide any particular financial benefits. We should give them that choice. I do not agree with any delay.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry We are discussing and debating an amendment from the Minister of State which would phase in the increase in unpaid parental leave over the period from 2019 to 2022. We are opposed to the proposed phasing-in. We will vote against it when the vote is called. To briefly state why, the proposal for the increase in unpaid parental leave is a very modest proposal. The idea that it has to be phased in not over one or two years, but over several years is not acceptable to us and is not acceptable to parents. Anyone who has sounded out parents on this issue will know that reasonable people feel that this is an unreasonable proposal. The argument seems to be very much influenced by the views of some employers and some employer organisations. There are few, if any, employers in the country who would not be in a position to afford what is in reality a very modest proposal. If the Minister of State was concerned about the ability of some small businesses to afford this in the immediate short term he might bring a proposal before the House for some kind of short-term temporary subsidy. We would look at that on its merits. I personally do not think it would be necessary given the modest arrangements being put forward here. The idea of parents having to wait for their full entitlements for four years is not acceptable and we will be voting against it.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire I will be brief. I will be opposing the Government's amendment and the related amendments. I do not see the logic behind it. Even if there was an argument for phasing in the extension, the period we are talking about - four years - is scarcely logical considering that we are only talking about a matter of weeks over the course of 12 years. Businesses would be in a position to facilitate that. It would not cause them any undue difficulty and I therefore will not be supporting the Government's amendment. I will be opposing it.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I agree with what has been said already. I just want to stress again that parents have been welcoming things like flexitime and job sharing because so much juggling has to take place when one has children and two jobs in a family, or even one job as the case may be. This would facilitate parents. In terms of the problems for small and medium enterprises, SMEs, there is generally a fairly good personal relationship between the employer and the employees in small businesses. I do not see difficulties arising with this. I think both would be flexible. I think employees would be willing to be flexible but would like the opportunity to take this kind of unpaid time.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I have listened carefully to what colleagues have said and, as I said at the very start of Second Stage, Government is in favour of extending this unpaid leave. It took a while to get advice and views because this moved so quickly. It was not until now that we got the view of the Attorney General and we have genuinely been told that there is a risk.

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