Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to reports that the Government is seeking to delay the implementation of European Union Work-Life Balance Directive; his views on the fact that Ireland is one of only six EU member states to not offer employer paid paternity leave; his plans to address this anomaly in respect of the implementation of the directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54181/17]
218. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans in respect of the implementation of the European Union Work Life Balance Directive; his views on the fact that Ireland is one of only six EU member states to not offer employer paid parental leave; his plans to address this anomaly in respect of the implementation of the directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53952/17]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): I propose to take Questions Nos. 195 and 218 together.
As the Deputy is aware, on 26 April 2017, the European Commission initiated a Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU. The Directive is part of a package of measures aimed, inter alia, at addressing the underrepresentation of women in employment, and supporting women’s career progression by creating improved conditions whereby they can reconcile their working responsibilities and family commitments.
The specific objectives of the Directive are (1) To improve access to work-life balance arrangements and (2) To increase take-up of family-related leaves and flexible working arrangements by men.
The key articles in the Directive are (1) Article 4, which provides for 10 days of paid paternity leave, (2) Article 5, which provides for four months parental leave, one month of which may be transferable between parents, in respect of children up to the age of eight, (3) Article 6, which provides for five days per annum paid carers’ leave, (4) Article 8, which provides that workers exercising rights in accordance with articles 4, 5 and 6 will receive payment or an allowance equivalent to national sick leave rates (at a minimum) and (5) Article 9, which provides for the right of a worker with caring responsibilities or the right of a parent (in respect of children up to 12 years of age) to ask his or her employer for flexible working arrangements.
Working Group negotiations on the proposed directive have been underway since the initiation of the proposal, and will continue in January 2018 under the Bulgarian Presidency of the European Union. It is expected that discussions on the Directive will not progress to general approach for at least several months so it would be premature to plan for the proposal’s implementation at this stage.
While supportive of the aims of the Directive, in common with many other member states Ireland recognises that there are significant cost implications associated with the proposed new Parental Leave scheme. These reservations have been expressed at working group level and also at the meeting of the Council of the European Union on Employment, Social Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) on 7 December, 2017. At that meeting the implementation of the Parental Leave scheme on a phased basis was suggested and discussed. Given the cost implications and logistical issues arising, this is a reasonable position to adopt as it would allow member states to reduce the initial costs of introducing any new leave and benefit arrangements over a period of time and it would also give member states sufficient time to manage the logistics of any new schemes. The Government is of the view that were the principle of phased implementation to be accepted, the focus should initially be on providing leave to parents of younger children and only subsequently expanded to parents of older children.
Some of the goals of the proposed directive are already reflected in existing schemes in Ireland. For instance in 2016 a new scheme of two weeks of Paternity Leave to paid at the sick leave rate was introduced which satisfies the requirements of the proposed Directive in relation to paternity leave. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to expanding paid leave for the first year of a child’s life, and work on developing proposals on how this expansion can be best achieved will formally begin in early 2018. It is expected that the agreed scheme will be recognised as progress towards achieving the requirements of the Directive.
My Department looks forward to continuing work on the Directive with the other key Government Departments and the EU Commission, Presidency and member states to shape it so that it is affordable, properly targeted, and effectively serves to improve the work life balance of parents and families.