In general Ireland provides good maternity protection but recent decisions have weakened this support and paternity leave remains inadequate. Maternity leave is paid for 26 weeks. In addition, a mother may avail of a further 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Previously there were two rates of state Maternity Benefit, but since January 2014, the rate has been standardised to €230 per week for new claimants.1 This resulted in a cut of €32 per week (12 per cent) for an estimated 16,500 women (76 per cent of all claimants) and an increase of €12.20 per week for the remainder.2 The payment had already become taxable in July 2013. The Department of Social Protection has indicated that a decision was made to reduce the rate of payment rather than reduce the 26-week duration of the benefit.3 The cut to the payment has been described as ‘anti-women and anti-families’4 and there are concerns that it will force mothers of young babies back to work early due to financial necessity.5
A 2011 survey found that while the majority of women were satisfied with how they were treated in the workplace during their pregnancy, almost a third reported unfair treatment and experienced problems in relation to maternity leave.6 The study also found that 92 per cent of women availed of paid maternity leave and Maternity Benefit although the uptake of unpaid maternity leave was much less as this was found to be dependent on a number of factors, including the mother’s level of education and occupational background as well as financial and family support.7
There is no statutory paid paternity leave in Ireland. Unpaid parental leave8 was increased from 14 weeks in 2013 to 18 weeks in 2014 for each parent for each child.9 The Government has agreed in principle to legislate for ‘paternity leave on a shared basis’ where the mother chooses to share the leave10 but proper safeguards must be put in place to ensure that a woman is not pressured into returning to work early by her employer. The State has ruled out increasing maternity leave by two weeks given the additional estimated cost to the Exchequer of €11.4 million per year.11 Any changes to the way in which maternity leave is granted must ensure that a woman is not coerced by an employer into signing over her leave to her partner. A draft of the Parental Leave Bill to consolidate provisions relating to maternity, adoptive, parental and carer’s leave is promised before the end of 2014.12
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Ensure mothers are adequately supported financially so they can avail of their full maternity leave entitlements if they so wish.
Enact the Family Leave Bill as soon as possible.
1 Department of Social Protection (2013) Budget Factsheet: Main Social Welfare Changes and Rates of Payments, Dublin: DSP, p.3.
2 Joan Burton TD, Minister for Social Protection, Parliamentary Debates: Written Answers, [46913/13], 5 November 2013.
3 Children’s Rights Alliance (2014) Report Card 2014, Dublin: Children’s Rights Alliance, p.79.
4 National Women’s Council of Ireland, ‘Cuts to maternity benefit are anti-women and anti-families’ [press release], 15 October 2013.
5 Children’s Rights Alliance (2013) Analysis of Budget 2014, Dublin: Children’s Rights Alliance, p.3.
6 Helen Russell, Dorothy Watson & Joanna Banks (2011) Pregnancy at Work: A National Survey, Dublin/Roscrea: Health Service Executive Crisis Pregnancy Programme and Equality Authority, p.90.
7 Helen Russell, Dorothy Watson & Joanna Banks (2011) Pregnancy at Work: A National Survey, Dublin/Roscrea: Health Service Executive Crisis Pregnancy Programme and Equality Authority, p.93.
8 Parental leave is an entitlement to 18 working weeks unpaid leave until the child reaches 8 years of age.
9 Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, Parliamentary Debates: Written Answers, [29427/14], 8 July 2014.
10 Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Older People, Equality & Mental Health, Speech on Parental Leave Bill 2013, 10 July 2013.
11 Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Older People, Equality & Mental Health, Speech on Parental Leave Bill 2013, 10 July 2013.
12 Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, Parliamentary Debates: Written Answers, [29427/14], 8 July 2014.
Last Updated: 22/01/2015 ^ back to top