Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
Other Senators said the same thing. I chair the committee responsible for the national strategy for women and girls. We had a meeting yesterday. Senator Higgins referred to the number of women who fall out of the labour force, a matter that was highlighted at the committee's meeting. The need to encourage more men to, like Senator Gavan, take on the caring and childcare role was highlighted. One concern I have is that we need to focus on balancing and sharing the caring at home so that women and men share it equally. If an employer is interviewing two people for a job, the interviewer must not have an unconscious bias against the female applicant because the chances are that the female applicant might get pregnant and take a lot of leave, whereas the male applicant will not. People cannot say that out loud but we all know about unconscious bias. We must also start thinking about this at a higher policy level. What can we do to encourage more men to take on the sharing, caring, child-rearing role and, at the same time, be careful not to support, encourage and nudge women to take on more than they are doing already and not being involved in the workplace? The statistics are frightening when one looks at the graphs.
I invite all the Senators to read the national strategy for women and girls. In it, we stress the need to do a lot more than what is being done.
We have introduced a new paid parental leave scheme which will commence later this year for both parents. We have also brought in paternity leave. The new scheme will initially provide for two weeks of leave and benefits per parent. It is planned to expand the scheme in future years. This support is in addition to the maternity and paternity leave. I am happy to have brought legislation through the Houses in 2016 which provided, as I said, for two weeks' paid paternity leave for dads on the birth of their child. I firmly believe that both parents should be supported to have time with their children. It is crucially important, especially in the first year, but also further on and I heard what Senator Gavan and others had to say about this. In order to further support parents, the Government is increasing investment of childcare, another big aspect of this, to €576 million under budget 2019. This increased investment will provide access to high quality, affordable childcare for more than 175,000 children and improve subsidies to 40,000 others. This is linked to what colleagues have said here about the amendments and taking time off.
We have also introduced a range of new and improved measures to reduce the cost of childcare. These include a non-means tested universal subsidy in excess of €1,000 per year for children under three and significantly increased targeted supports of up to €145 per week through existing childcare subvention schemes.Free GP care for under-sixes also takes financial pressure off parents when they are worried about the health of their child. Senators spoke about being in accident and emergency services and bringing children to doctors. Now people do not have to pay for the under-sixes.
The Government is working hard to make life easier for families. That is why time is being taken to put forward a considered approach that meets the objectives of the legislation, meets the needs of parents and mitigates the costs. We have to support families but we must be realistic.