Sunday 15 September 2019

Anne-Marie Walsh: 'Employers' unwillingness to top up wages may be putting many fathers off Government scheme'


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Anne-Marie Walsh

Most dads with new arrivals are not taking up a Government scheme that means they can claim €245 a week for a fortnight in the first six months after the birth.

New figures show 24,080 fathers with newborns availed of paternity benefit last year.

This is 9pc down on the previous year, and it doesn't look like the take-up this year will be all that different, based on the 7,000 applicants to the end of March.

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What's most interesting is that there have been around 60,000 births recorded per year in recent times.

It therefore appears that more than half of these dads are not taking up the scheme - although not everyone will have a job or the PRSI contributions to qualify for it. It's hardly a resounding success.

The fathers may just not be aware of it, although it usually doesn't take people that long to cop on where there is money to be claimed.

But in this case, they could be excused, as the whole set-up is more than a bit confusing.

First of all, there is maternity benefit - which the State will pay for 26 weeks.

Then there is this paternity leave scheme - which lasts for a measly two weeks for fathers and is paid at the same rate.

There is also parental leave that is unpaid for 18 weeks to parents with children under eight, and can be stretched over a number of years.

Recently, the Government backed legislation that could extend this to 26 weeks.

And then here's another scheme that Minister Regina Doherty is launching at the end of the year that will give parents another two weeks, paid at the same rate as paternity and maternity benefit.

But this one is available only in the child's first year. It will gradually be extended to seven weeks.

Given that most of the schemes are paid at the same rate, maybe it's time to relaunch the whole parental/paternity and maternity leave thing into a single, user-friendly package.

At the very least, the minister should order some kind of assessment to find out why fathers are not going for it before she launches her next initiative.

Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea believes a lot of dads may not be opting for it because of the pressures they face at work, while some may simply not know about it.

It could, of course, all come down to money. There's a fair bit of paperwork involved, too - including providing proof of the birth date, registering for a public services card and online account. And at the end of it all, you might end up with less than €500 - taxed.

What may be turning many off is that their employer is not willing to pay the top-up that would mean they end up on a full wage - even those that may offer it to women on maternity leave.

When the paternity scheme was rolled out, consultants and legal experts were advising employers to match what they were doing for women as it could be seen as discriminatory if they didn't.

But a test case at the Workplace Relations Commission not so long ago that found it was not necessarily discriminatory to do so may have influenced many bosses to keep the gold-plated arrangement in place solely for women.

If they are only getting the social welfare rate, it might be too tight for a dad with a large brood, especially one whose partner is only on maternity benefit and who needs to cover childcare for other kids. They might prefer to take annual leave on full pay.

Many may still be relying on whatever arrangement was on offer before the paternity scheme came into force.

It might make more sense for an exhausted dad with bloodshot eyes and an understanding boss to take a few days off on full pay, rather than a fortnight on the breadline.

Irish Independent

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