Saturday 15 June 2019

Guinness game changer: six-month paternity leave

Stock photo
Stock photo

Ellie Donnelly and Anne-Marie Walsh

The move by Guinness to offer new fathers six months’ paid paternity leave has been described as a potential game changer for workplace equality.

Men working for the brewing giant, owned by Diageo, will be entitled to 26 weeks off on full pay when they have a baby, matching the maternity benefit paid to women.

The significant move by one of the country’s biggest employers is being labelled as a pivotal moment for workers’ rights that will encourage equal distribution of childcare between parents. 

From July 1, the 26 weeks’ paid parental leave will be offered to all Diageo employees in Ireland who become parents, regardless of gender or sexuality. It will apply regardless of how people become parents – via birth, adoption or surrogacy.

Economist Jim Power said Diageo is setting the bar high on paternity leave because of the tight labour market.

“Employers are being forced to look at innovative  ways to make employment more attractive to workers,” he said.

It comes as Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone outlined her five-year strategy for young families.

"I guess we saw from the CSO unemployment data yesterday that the economy is approaching full employment and the big challenge for employers in the next number of years will be the recruitment and retention of workers," added Mr Power.

He said over the last decade the trend has been diminishing working conditions like jobs for life and defined-benefit pensions, but that is being reversed.

Managing director of Brightwater Recruitment Barbara McGrath praised Diageo for introducing the paid paternity leave that would cement its place in an 'employers-of-choice' list.

She said retaining staff is uppermost in many employers' minds and improved paternity leave may give them an edge. "Workplaces are getting more competitive," she said. "People are definitely looking at jobs and it's not all about pay. It's about work-life balance."

Since 2016, new fathers have been entitled to two weeks' paid leave of €245 per week, under a Government scheme, but the uptake has been low.

Ms Zappone yesterday unveiled the Government's initial implementation plan for 'First 5', a strategy for early childhood.

It pledges that by 2021, parents will have an individual entitlement to seven weeks of paid parental leave, to potentially allow children to benefit from an additional 14 weeks' parental care in their first year.

And when the plan is rolled out, parents of all children up to the age of 12 are entitled to 26 weeks of unpaid parental leave.

Mothers will also be allowed breastfeeding breaks for up to 104 weeks following the birth of their child.

In the meantime, Diageo said it hopes the policy will support employees to "focus on the joy of raising a young family, while continuing to thrive at work".

The company, whose brands include Baileys, Smirnoff, and Tanqueray gin, currently employs 1,200 people across the island of Ireland.

Oliver Loomes, Diageo Ireland country director, said: "Our business has always had a strong record of being one of the best employers in Ireland."

The plan comes as the country is close to full employment, with a record 2.3 million people in work.

In the first quarter of this year 35,200 jobs were created, most of them full-time and many of them going to women. Meanwhile, unemployment is at the lowest level in 14 years.

David Joyce, equality and international development officer at employee representative body Ictu, said Diageo's move was "a very positive development".

"Progressive companies know the research demonstrates that paternity leave saves them money by attracting and retaining employees, including women and men," Mr Joyce said.

"This will be a major contribution to tackling other gender inequalities in the workplace, including the gender pay gap."

A spokesperson for Siptu said the news was "very welcome".

"The birth of a child is very important for both parents, but unless the current [Government] paternity leave is topped up, there is a very large cohort of workers that can't take it," Siptu said.

Ireland's largest trade union said it is seeing some multinational companies offering 16 weeks of paid paternity leave, so "26 weeks is very much welcomed".

However, groups representing smaller businesses previously warned of the strain on companies to find replacement staff during paternity leave.

John Barry of ISME's national council said that instead affordable state-run créches and tax relief on childcare would improve families' quality of life.

Diageo, which is listed on both the New York and London Stock Exchange, was last year named as the fourth most inclusive and diverse company in the world by Thomson Reuters.

Diageo is not the first company to introduce such a policy. Bloomberg also recently said it was expanding its paternity leave to 26 weeks, from 18.

Irish Independent

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