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Man's hand holding a baby's hand - Parental Leave

Parental Leave

November 5, 2019

Last Friday saw the introduction of an additional two weeks paid parental leave. While any increase in the level of paid leave for parents is to be welcomed, Early Childhood Ireland believes that policy makers need to be more ambitious, and this is something that we will be pushing for in the forthcoming general election.

Ireland fares very poorly compared to other European countries with our existing systems of paid maternity, paternity and parental leave overlapping and needlessly complex. The 2016 Programme for Partnership Government document, which sets out the legislative plans for the current government name checks a commitment to “significantly increase paid parental leave” in the first year of a child’s life.  This has resulted in a plan to gradually increase paid parental leave to a total of seven weeks for each parent over the course of a number of years. This leave is in addition to existing paid and unpaid maternal and paternal leave, all paid leave of this kind is set at a rate of €245 per week by the Department of Social protection.   From an early childhood perspective, the optimum environment for the first year of a child’s life is being cared for in a home environment by a parent or guardian. While we acknowledge the steps being taken by the government to enable this to become a reality, we are still very far from where we need to be in terms of the practical realisation of this aim.

From an affordability perspective, many parents simply cannot take the financial hit of having their income reduced to €245 per week. The European Commission has set a benchmark of 66% of income at the time of taking leave as the optimum to encourage parents to remain at home, rather than a set rate as has been introduced here. For many, the prospect of unpaid parental leave is simply impossible and unaffordable.

In terms of the actual amount of paid parental leave available, Ireland remains a laggard in European terms. Sweden would set the gold standard in the EU in this regard with 480 days paid parental leave for each parent at about 80% of income. This works out at about 96 working weeks.

Early Childhood Ireland accepts that we will not achieve this standard in Ireland anytime soon, but there is widespread public support for financial supports for parental leave. Early Childhood Ireland’s 2019 Childcare Barometer showed that 70% of respondents believed that parents should be financially supported to stay at home in the first 12 months of a child’s life. We will have parental leave as a key policy issue to improve the lives of babies and children in Ireland in our manifesto for the general election in the expected to be held in the next 6 months..

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