Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
Section 27 of the Parental Leave Act 1998 includes provisions relating to an employer's obligations to keep records on the uptake of parental leave and the manner in which it is taken by employees in their organisation. The provisions of the section also apply to force majeureleave taken by their employees. The section currently provides that records must be maintained by the employers in a prescribed manner for a period of eight years, and also obliges employees to keep all relevant paperwork for a period of one year.
The failure of an employer to maintain records relating to parental leave or force majeureleave in accordance with the Act may be subject to criminal prosecution, and persons found guilty of an offence shall be liable to summary conviction or a fine not exceeding €2,500. In line with the Bill's aim to increase the upper age limit of a child for which parental leave is not possible from eight to 12 years, this amendment seeks to modify the reporting requirements in the Act to take account of this change. In essence, the amendment requires employers to retain a record of leave taken by their employees for period of 12 years or until the child for whom the leave is taken reaches the age of 12, whichever comes sooner.There is, however, a more serious issue in section 7 that must be addressed. I propose to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to rectify this anomaly. The Department of Justice and Equality has identified a technical issue caused by the Bill's proposed extension of parental leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks and its interaction with section 7(1)(aa) of the Parental Leave Act 1998. At present, section 7(1)(aa) provides that leave may be taken in a single period of 18 weeks or in two separate periods of not less than six weeks in duration. However, as section 7(1)(aa) explicitly states that parental leave must be taken in two separate periods, should the Act remain as is, a situation arises where a parent who has taken his or her original entitlement in two separate periods, as per section 7(1)(aa), willnot be able to take a third or subsequent period of leave to allow him or her to avail of the additional eight weeks' leave provided for in the Bill if the Bill remains unchanged. Similarly, this provision, if unamended, may also prevent a parent from taking the remainder of the 18 weeks' leave that he or she may not have been able to take before the child reached eight years of age. This is a technical problem with the Bill which would make it unworkable that the Government has identified and is correcting, so I ask Senators not to say we are opposing this. This is a serious flaw in the Bill that cannot go unchecked. In brief, the Bill makes no provision to allow a parent who has already taken his or her leave in two separate periods to avail of the additional eight weeks' leave being provided for in the Bill. The Bill creates an entitlement to an additional eight weeks' leave but, for a certain group of parents, provides them with no way of taking it.
As it stands, this issue renders the Bill unworkable. I, therefore, propose that the Government will introduce amendments on Report Stage to rectify this issue and to ensure that all qualifying parents receive their entitlement to leave. I believe that correcting this anomaly is in the spirit of the Bill, which seeks to make it easier for a greater number of parents to benefit from the leave. Here is an example of the Government being positive, proactive and supportive, so to people who said we are opposing this I say, "Go away."