Parental Leave Bill

First of all, I would like to say that I entirely agree with the intention of what is being put forward here – and agree with some of the calls for further information, particularly around the cost-to-benefit ratio, the need for further context in terms of international examples and also the addition of adoptive leave within the parameters of this bill.

It shows that Ireland recorded the highest fertility rate in the EU in 2011, with 2.05 live births per woman. It was followed by France, at 2.01 and the UK at 1.96, while Hungary and Germany recorded the lowest birth rate in the EU at 1.23. Connections have been drawn between Germany’s low birth rate and its maternity leave arrangements.

There is no question that Ireland’s birth rate, while high in a European context and not at our lowest ever point, is falling and this should be a concern for us. We need to be working to make sure that our laws are adaptive, flexible and in tune with what people need.

In an international context, it is worth looking at best practice in other countries and considering the costs associated with those models. If we look at other models, Sweden provides working parents with an entitlement of 13 months paid leave per child at 77.6% of the employee’s monthly salary up to a ceiling of about €2,800 per month, the cost being shared between employer and the state. In addition, parents also are entitled to an additional 90 days of leave at approximately €20 per day. Out of the total of 480 days paid parental leave, 60 days are reserved exclusively for each parent and are lost if not utilized. It should be noted that the paid days include weekends.

Thus, 480 days is equal to about 16 months. Some Swedish political parties on the political left argue for legislation to oblige families to divide the 480 days equally between both parents. This is an ongoing debate, but is worth consideration. Norway has similarly generous leave. In Estonia mothers are entitled to 18 months of paid leave, starting up to 70 days before due date. Fathers are entitled to paid leave starting from the third month after birth, though paid leave is however available to only one parent at a time.

I would support a call to include adoptive leave within this Bill as an amendment, as suggested at second stage by Senator Van Turnhout. Under the Adoptive Leave Act 1995, as amended by the Adoptive Leave Act 2005 only the adoptive mother is entitled to avail of adoptive leave from employment, except in the case where a male is the sole adopter. This seems like an ideal time to change that.

One other thing which is worth consideration is finding out what this measure will cost the taxpayer and finding out if we know the cost-benefit breakdown. While I place great value on this, we also need to find out how this would impact our competitiveness. What we need to consider is that, obviously, any cost associated with this will have to be borne by business – there is no magic pot from which these funds can come from. Either it has to be raised through increased personal taxation, or increased business taxation, and we need to acknowledge that reality, which is no bad thing as such, it just needs to be stated.

I believe a cost-benefit analysis is needed, I believe adoptive leave should also be considered in this context and I also believe that we need a fuller analysis of what the uptake rates of parental leave are in the international examples cited. While I am in favour of the Bill, I do believe more information would be helpful, while also taking the adoptive leave change into account also.

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