Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I am very supportive of increasing the flexibility and choices for working parents and giving them the opportunity to spend more time with their children. That is a worthwhile aim that we all share.
For the record, the Government never voted against this legislation anywhere. We have been supportive of it. I have tried to engage in a positive way throughout the process. We have been introducing other measures as well such as paid leave and paternity leave, so we are ahead of the game in this regard in many areas. We have put our money where out mouth is, or rather the taxpayers' money. At all stages we have sought a compromise that is fair and equitable to families, parents and employers. "Employers" seems to be a negative word. We are talking about a small operation with three or four people – SMEs. I am sure Senator Gavan knows many such people. We must be careful that we do not put too much of a burden on them too quickly because it might put them out of business. They might not be able to continue. We must be cognisant of that. That is the reason it was a shame they did not have an opportunity to put their case before the committee, because they could have been heard by everybody. However, that is history. Balancing the needs of all stakeholders has been the Government's driving principle throughout the development of the Bill.
There are costs and operational concerns associated with the implementation of the Bill. There is a disagreement in that regard. In my view there is a mistaken perception that there are no cost implications. However, the Bill, if enacted, will impact on the operation of essential public services. We are all aware of the shortage of staff in many services and if people take time off we must consider whether it will have an impact on families and people with children who need supports such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and other such services.
On the cost issue, if all eligible parents employed in the health and education sectors alone were to take the additional eight weeks allocation being provided for in the Bill, it would, at a minimum, cost the Exchequer almost €12.4 million per annum based on figures from 2015. The figures were provided by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is difficult to get information because unpaid leave up to now has not been recorded. However, we were taken aback at the cost when the results of the analysis we sought were provided. Initially, we were all under the impression that there was no cost involved.