Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members]
I thank the Minister of State for speaking to amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which have been grouped. I am happy to support them to ensure the name and Title of the Bill better reflect what is being provided for. What is being provided for is pretty modest in European terms. The Minister of State spoke of the importance of paid parental leave and there is no doubt that is true. All of us would like to see the Government introducing paid parental leave for the first year of a child's life as soon as possible. It was a commitment in the programme for Government but progress has been pretty slow. What is being proposed is an extension to the entitlement to unpaid parental leave, which is not an alternative but rather an addition to paid parental leave. It is a different type of provision entirely, and its purpose is to provide flexibility to parents during a child's life up to the age of 12. This means that at particular times, perhaps during school holidays or when a child is going through a period or illness, when many different issues arise for parents, there can be flexibility for them so they can balance family responsibilities with work life. We must bear in mind that we are very much down the table in providing parental leave generally within Europe and there is much catching up to do.
I was surprised by some of the points raised by the Minister of State. It is a positive aspect of this initiative that it has received cross-party support. It certainly has much support outside this House among parents who are crying out for this flexibility. There has been no mention of any kind of constitutional issue up to now and I do not see that there could be any constitutional issue. The Minister of State also hinted at potential costs, but this was checked beforehand and there is no question of a money Bill. That advice came from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and it has been cleared from that perspective. Any potential cost on employers would be minimal. It will not happen that next week all parents will start claiming additional leave, but instead it would happen over a long period of a childhood. It is a very modest proposal that is about helping parents, many of whom are struggling to juggle different responsibilities.
The Minister of State mentioned that many low-paid parents might not be able to afford to take unpaid leave, but I repeat that this is not a substitute for paid parental leave. It will be in addition to that leave so it is different. It is about providing a level of flexibility so that parents have the option of taking time off at different stages. We can consider the very high cost of child care and sometimes there is very little in the difference if a parent takes a month of the school summer holidays off work to look after children at home. Taking into consideration tax and the cost of travelling to and participating in work, there may sometimes be very little in the difference. It is an option open to everybody. It is a sensible and modest enough move. I very much welcome the cross-party support we have achieved through Second and Committee Stages and I hope it will continue so we can see the Bill passing Report and Final Stages tonight.
I acknowledge the very strong support that Senator Buttimer has given the Bill. He has committed to facilitating its early passage through the Seanad before the recess, which would be a very positive development. There are certainly many parents watching what is happening tonight who will very much welcome these improvements if we can continue to take an all-party approach.