Monday 14 October 2019

Calls to extend breastfeeding breaks to all workers until children are two years of age

Breastfeeding. Stock photo
Breastfeeding. Stock photo

Anne-Marie Walsh

THE government faces demands to extend breastfeeding breaks to all workers until their children are two that it granted to its own staff.

Currently, only female civil servants are entitled to breaks until their child’s second birthday.

This is despite a commitment in the Department of Justice’s ‘National Strategy for Women and Girls’ to "extend provision for breastfeeding breaks under employment legislation".

The ‘timescale’ given for the proposal was the second quarter of last year.

Breastfeeding breaks are currently available to mothers until their children are six months old.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions Equality and Development Officer, David Joyce, suggested that the change could be rolled out by piggybacking on existing government plans, including the parental leave scheme.

"We have continually made the case for an extension of the period and believe that the upcoming paid parental leave scheme and the transposition process for the EU work-life balance directive provide an opportunity to extend the entitlement to lactation breaks until at least the infant's second birthday," he said, as the HSE launched National Breastfeeding Week.

Under Irish law, breastfeeding women are entitled to time off or a reduction in their working hours to feed their baby.

These breaks are often used to express milk.

They can either breastfeed during these breaks if their child is being cared for nearby, or their childminder can bring the baby to the workplace.

Alternatively, they can express and store breast milk if their employer provides a suitable room and facilities.

If no facilities are provided, they can cut their working hours by an hour a day for each eight hour working day without losing pay.

This could be done by starting an hour later or leaving an hour earlier from work.

In a statement, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland noted that the civil service is the only sector of the workforce where feeding until two years exists.

"The exception is the civil service as civil service unions successfully negotiated an entitlement to lactation breaks for female employees up until their child's second birthday, to bring it into line with Department of Health’s best evidence-based recommendations for breastfeeding," they said.

Malvina Walsh, Chair of Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland, said expectant fathers have a once-off right to paid time off work to attend the last two antenatal classes prior to the birth.

However, she said the entitlement does not extend to every pregnancy and is a once-off.

She said it should apply to all pregnancies.

Meanwhile, Labour senator Kevin Humphreys called for more supports for women who breastfeed.

He said he is concerned about a possible shortage of breastmilk for newborns in the south, with a possible no-deal Brexit around the corner.

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