Working parents to get extra unpaid leave 'to help families enjoy better work-life balance'
A big extension to unpaid maternity leave for working parents will be approved by the Dáil this week.
The draft law, called the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, aims to help families enjoy better work-life balance by permitting parents to spend more time caring for their children.
Unlike many draft laws put forward by non-government parties and Independent TDs, which have got initial Government support only to be pushed into a siding, this has got strong support through all the law-making phases.
The law, championed by Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats, will extend unpaid parental leave from the current four months to six months and will also raise the qualifying child age from eight to 12 years.
It will also ensure that these improvements go to parents who have already taken some of their leave already, including parents who have used up all of their current allocation of four months.
The draft law goes to the so-called report stage, the last phase of the law-making process, in the Dáil on Wednesday and will then move on to the Seanad.
The Social Democrats are now hopeful the changes can come into effect in a matter of months.
It is understood the Government, while approving the measure in principle, will also table amendments which would phase in the increased unpaid time over a longer period.
The Government has its own, separate plans for increases in paid parental leave - further details of which are likely to be announced in the October Budget.
For now, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 will allow parents to take a total of 26 weeks unpaid leave from their jobs without their employment rights being affected. This is eight weeks more than the current period of 18 weeks unpaid leave.
It also allows leave over the lifetime of children up to the age of 12, rising from the current threshold of eight.
The bill passed the committee stage last month, having received the backing of fellow legislators at the Select Committee on Justice and Equality.
The junior minister responsible, David Stanton, was supportive and it was also enthusiastically backed by Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
Ms Shortall said the party was very pleased its proposals will give more flexibility to working families.
"Increasing the amount of unpaid leave available represents a win-win for both working parents and employees.
"For parents with pre-school children in particular, unpaid parental leave can be a realistic alternative to paying high costs of formal childcare," Ms Shortall said.