Tuesday 17 September 2019

Minister's comments on parental leave are 'downright insulting'

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Mark Condren
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Mark Condren
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

There is anger among parents over Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty's suggestion that money is not the reason for the low paternity leave take-up among fathers.

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

The State will pay €245 a week to parents, which may be voluntarily topped up by private companies if the employee is on a higher salary.

However, a recent survey found almost two-thirds are not providing top-ups.

Ms Doherty claimed there was a "narrative that the value of money associated with the scheme isn't enough for men to take off work".

She added: "It doesn't seem to have stopped women from taking maternity leave."

Separate research shows 60pc of men don't take existing paternity benefits.

Laura Erskine, spokeswoman of parenting website MummyPages.ie, said the feedback they have had is Ms Doherty's remarks are "downright insulting".

She said: "A huge proportion of dads simply cannot afford to avail of this leave despite the fact that they desperately want to spend this important time with their new or growing family."

Ms Erskine said the Government's plans for extending parental leave are welcome, but if the Sate payment is not topped up by employers it can be difficult for both parents to take the time.

She added that amid high house prices and soaring rental costs, many parents have to operate as dual-income families to make ends meet and they save to be able to afford mothers taking their full maternity leave.

Ms Erskine suggested the Government should give employers incentives to top up the basic €245 paternity and parental leave payments.

She said an "appropriate tax break" would "mark a positive step towards greater balance of parental care of children under a year in the home".

Ms Doherty has said she has never claimed new fathers don't want to spend time with their children and acknowledged that most do. However, she also spoke of the need to have a conversation "around gender roles".

She said that when the minimum wage was introduced it was said to be unaffordable for business, but now it's accepted as a benchmark for workplace fair play.

Ms Doherty said she hopes initiatives like parental leave can change mindsets and actions "making it acceptable and possible for both parents to become actively involved" in early childcare.

Separately, concerns have been raised about the impact on both public and private sector employers of Government plans to extend parental leave.

Mary Connaughton, director of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, warned of the pressure on both public and private employers to pay top-ups for extended parental leave.

Ms Connaughton, whose organisation represents human resources professionals, said there will be an "immediate cost" to the State to pay for parental leave top-ups for public sector employees like teachers and civil servants.

This echoes concerns expressed by Education Minister Joe McHugh about the financial costs of extending the leave.

Ms Connaughton also said the State's tight labour market will see pressure on private sector employers to pay the top-ups, which would be particularly difficult for small business.

She said there's a "real risk" of a divide between the public and private sectors with State employees being paid the top-ups while others miss out because small businesses can't afford it.

Irish Independent

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