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Minister aims for nine weeks' paid leave for new parents

But business hits back over high cost fears for smaller companies


‘Conversation’: Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

‘Conversation’: Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

‘Conversation’: Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

Parental leave will eventually be extended to nine weeks - despite concerns over the cost for schools, hospitals and small businesses.

The Government has already committed to giving new mothers and fathers two paid weeks off from November, rising to seven weeks by 2021.

However, soon-to-be-adopted EU rules mean that over time the State will be expected to subsidise eight weeks off for new parents.

And during an interview yesterday, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty indicated Ireland could even stretch to nine weeks. She wants a conversation about the value of caring in the home, arguing men need to stop making excuses for not taking time away from work in a child's first year.

Figures show around 60pc of men do not avail of existing paternity benefits. Despite this, Ms Doherty is insisting the additional leave will be a non-transferable benefit, meaning each parent will need to "use it or lose it".

The State will pay €245 a week, which may be voluntarily topped up by private companies if the employee is on a higher salary. A recent study found almost two-thirds are not providing salary top-ups.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise (Isme) group, told the Irish Independent that many can't afford to. Mr McDonnell said businesses will need to have "rigid" rules around giving similar top-ups to all employees, male and female.

"SMEs will really struggle to do it. The large companies, the banks, are not going to have an issue.

"Small businesses are struggling to reach pay demands at the minute," he said.

He also warned some employers may have an "unconscious bias" when interviewing young men and woman who may be thinking of starting a family.

"I'm not dissing the initiative by Regina Doherty, I'm just saying the people who will struggle most are SMEs. It's just a fact of life. We're the end of the food chain."

He said even if companies don't top up the State payment, they will have to backfill positions temporarily while a new mother or father is on leave.

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Education Minister Joe McHugh has also expressed concern, saying that while he supports the concept there will be a lot of preparation needed before parental leave is "workable".

Meanwhile, CIPD Ireland - the umbrella body for human resource and learning and development professionals in Ireland - has called for further consultation ahead of the scheme's introduction.

"We are concerned at the potential for confusion as this is the fourth type of leave that will be allowed for, with the system allowing for maternity leave, unpaid parental leave, paid paternity leave and now paid parental leave," director of CIPD Ireland Mary Connaughton said.

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