Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members]
I too am thankful to the Minister of State for his comments. We must be mindful that EU directives do not crisscross, as he said. We will talk about that later.
Regarding unpaid leave, I have a staff member who is after having her baby - successfully, thankfully - and who has now gone on to unpaid leave. There is no issue once there is a genuine understanding and a genuinely good relationship between employer and employee, which we would hope would be the case for the vast majority, and once notice is given in order that replacements can be found or contingency plans made. Those very early months and weeks of a newborn baby's life are so important, especially for a first-time parent, or even the second time one. Childcare is so expensive, and many childcare centres will not take small babies. The conditions and guidelines in this regard are very harsh. I happen to be chairperson of a community crèche - a naíonra, in fact - and we must have the checks and balances in place in respect of the 1:3 ratio, which is very high and is onerous on the crèche. There is limited space, limited staff and limited funding, and many crèches have been shortchanged in funding in this recent round, including our one. I have not got the funding that the naíonra expected or was hoping for, so it is very important that there be unpaid leave and that we deal with the matter here.
Regarding the issue of paid leave, which I know we will deal with later, I must declare that I am an employer, a self-employed person, and that there are difficulties in this regard. While I am not against the concept proposed in the Bill, I am saying it will be onerous on many employers. While we think we are back in a boom, we are not. Perhaps we are in this city, but we are certainly not in the parts of Ireland I represent. It is important we do not overburden small employers in rural areas as well as urban areas. They are the backbone of our community and our development. I spoke about them earlier today in the context of the Construction Contracts Act and subcontractors not getting paid when big companies go bust, which is a knock-on effect. This is a continuum, and a whole aggregation of these issues forces self-employed people and small businesses out of business. A closed business is no good to the employees, the employer, the taxpayer, the county council or anyone else, so it is very important we make hay slowly. While we might rank well behind in Europe, we cannot just catch up overnight. We must have balance. We need a work-life balance - that is certainly very important - but we also need a balance in respect of the ability or inability of small firms especially to be able to pay the paid leave. However, I support unpaid leave wholeheartedly and I welcome the debate on it.