Until now, Ireland has been well behind other European countries when it comes to statutory paternity leave – we haven’t had any.
Fathers in Iceland enjoy three months leave at 80% their salary, those in Norway 70 days and in Sweden 60 days. All the while, Irish fathers have had to build up annual leave to spend time with their new-born children, usually at their employers’ discretion. This will change from September when Irish men will be entitled to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave, thanks to the ‘family friendly’ Budget 2016.
The introduction of paternity leave is undoubtedly a huge step towards recognising the needs of modern Irish families. This doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t complications to be dealt with – for fathers, their families and the companies they work for.
What paternity leave means for Irish families
Families around the country have rejoiced at the news of statutory paternity leave. It recognises the positive effect of a father’s involvement on child development, helping new parents to establish a healthier work/life balance and breaking down traditional gender stereotypes. Fathers will be able to take their two weeks’ leave at any time within 26 weeks of the birth, whenever they deem it suitable. Not only will this enable more fathers to bond with their children during the pivotal early stage of their lives, they will also be able to provide a helping hand to their partners.
However, there are some important details to consider – paternity leave will be offered at a rate of €230 a week, the same as maternity leave and based on the same PRSI contributions. Some employers will top this up but many won’t, meaning some fathers may have to forego their leave. A man who is the main provider at home, or whose partners’ wages have been reduced to the €230 maternity leave benefit, may not be able to meet the extra costs of a new baby on this money. In the past, unpaid or low-paid leave has had very little take-up. A provision of parental leave has been available to Irish parents within the first 18 weeks since 1998 but this has been adopted by less than 5% of men.
What paternity leave means for Irish companies
Our latest Employment Monitor found that 60% of employers feel that the new paternity leave measures are still not good enough. Many employers are parents themselves and understand the importance of being physically present during a child’s first few months. For many, a shared parental leave policy would be more ideal, as has been the case in Scandinavia for decades and the UK since late 2014. This would mean that new parents could share the responsibility of rearing their child and mothers could return to the workforce earlier.
While these figures suggest employers view statutory paternity leave in a positive light, it will undoubtedly bring about issues for smaller companies. They may not have the resources to make up for an absent male employee for two weeks. Isme Chief Executive Mark Fielding also predicted that less than 20% of SMEs would have the funds available to top it up. That could have an impact on recruitment for these companies. Candidates with young families or those expecting children are also naturally more drawn to employers that can offer them benefits during this costly period.
Statutory paternity leave is a welcome introduction, one that has been necessary for some time. Whether it’s enough for new Irish fathers remains a subject of controversy. Undoubtedly Irish fathers require more rights when it comes to spending time with their young children but changes in the system still leave new parents and smaller companies with some questions to answer. The new measures are set to come into play later this year so it will be interesting to see how these are taken up around the country.