Tuesday, 22 November 2005
Ceisteanna — Questions.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
Members of staff within my Department are supported as far as it is practicable to meet their child care needs. Staff members are offered a wide variety of family friendly arrangements taking in to account the organisational needs of the Department.
I do not know if one should express surprise or thank the Taoiseach for the brevity of his reply. Does he agree the child care supports offered to some civil servants are fair compared with those offered to other workers, especially those in the private sector and lower paid workers generally? Is the Taoiseach aware that one of the real difficulties is that entitlements, to which he alluded briefly, exist not as statutory rights but as the result of long, hard negotiations and agreement? For many people the option of parental leave is not a real option because it is not provided for in law. Surveys have indicated that a mere 20% of workers who could exercise the right to take parental leave——
If I am allowed, I ask the Taoiseach if the same figures apply in his Department. If there are reflective statistics for his Department of the figures I have outlined for the State experience, does he agree a right in law to parental leave is required?
I am trying to establish, if the Chair would allow a Member of this House to do so, whether the Taoiseach agrees, from his experience in his Department, that we need statutory provisions and not just the options exercised out of long negotiations and agreement.
Legislation governs maternity leave and it is continually under review. Over the past six social partnership programmes there have been improvements and changes. In my Department a number of initiatives are in place to support the needs of a diverse workforce, including work sharing options, flexitime, career breaks, paternity leave, term leave, special leave for domestic circumstances, adoptive leave and maternity leave. The last exists as a right and by regulation but leave is often taken for other purposes.
Some of the issues raised by the Deputy already exist in legislation. The child care measures in my Department include term leave, for example, which quite a substantial number of people take. It allows them to take either eight, ten or 13 weeks' unpaid leave from June until the end of August to match their working arrangements with their children's summer holidays. A range of options are available across Departments and they assist and greatly help parents.
In the overall child care area, the Deputy knows that facilities are in place for people both within and outside the public service. I do not want to answer for the private sector because that is not my Department but a range of initiatives are available for people to use.
With regard to child care and the Taoiseach's Department, have his staff indicated any interest in or must they apply for the use of crèche facilities that are coming on stream in Kildare House? Is that a facility that will be available to the Taoiseach's Department and what is the expected completion date?
Are details available of staff in flexitime, part-time or work sharing arrangements in the interests of child care? Will the Taoiseach provide the House with those figures now or obtain that information? It would be interesting to compare his Department with other areas of the Civil Service.
The Taoiseach mentioned, in reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin, that leave of eight, ten or 13 weeks is allowed to tie in with school holidays. Is there any other leave facility staff can take which might appear to be a career break but is in effect parental leave? For example, is taking a year off for child rearing among the child care facilities available within his Department?
The facility will only be available to staff in the Houses. There are some crèches in the public service, in Revenue and some other Departments, that are open to staff and there is a number of private crèches that people can use.
A total of 35 staff across all grades in my Department, up to and including principal officer, avail of work sharing. That is quite a high number out of a total of not much more than 200 people. That obviously helps staff with young children. The type of work sharing options available to staff include four-day weeks, three-and-a half-day weeks, three-day weeks, two-and-a-half-day weeks, two-day weeks, split weeks, mornings-only, evenings-only, week-on and week-off, and so forth. The system is extremely helpful and flexible for staff. The split week is by far the most popular option with staff. The other options are only availed of by one or two individuals, but the split week is very popular. The next most popular option is the four-day week. Those two options cover the majority of the work sharing arrangements.
As Deputy Sargent has said, the term time option is very helpful for people with small, schoolgoing children in the four to seven or five to eight age groups. It allows people to take leave for at least a sizeable part of the summer break, which works fairly well, without totally disrupting the Department. It works for people who are in an EU section or a section that is not as busy in July and August as it is during the rest of the year. It is helpful and useful to people.
I note the range of options that members of staff in the Taoiseach's Department may exercise, but what is the policy? Is there a structured policy for all workers in his Department? Do they know what it is and is it the same for every employee irrespective of rank? What does it consist of in concrete terms? The reply did not give any details?
There is no crèche in my Department and there are no arrangements for people to bring children. I have given details of how we try to accommodate staff but there is no facility for staff to arrive at work with their children and ask the secretary to look after them.