[Ireland] Additional unpaid leave for parents available

After an amendment to the Parental Leave Act, parents may now apply for additional unpaid leave from work. The changes will take effect in September, RTÉ reports

The introduction of this new parental leave legislation will see parents entitled to an extra four weeks of unpaid leave. In addition to the current 18 weeks entitlement until a child reaches their eighth birthday. 

In 2020, the entitlement will increase from 22 weeks to 26 weeks. 

The legislation was initiated by the Social Democrats and had cross-party support. Róisín Shortall - the party's co-leader - said the move could potentially impact half a million working parents. "It's very badly needed. Ireland ranks very poorly in European terms for parental leave and flexible work options," she said. 

Ms Shortall also welcomed the support of other parties and said it was a good example of "new politics".

Under the new legislation, the qualifying age of a child rises from eight up to 12. Parents are required to give six weeks notice to an employer before the leave is due to start. 

IBEC reportedly said employers were broadly supportive of the initiative, adding that it enhances workplace diversity and allows employers to retain talent. 

Rhona Murphy - Head of Employment Law Services with IBEC - said, "Some employers, depending on their scale and the demographic of their particular employees, may not be impacted that much at all.

But our concern is for smaller employers they may face some real challenges just because of how the legislation is structured."

"In particular the new ability to take the leave in smaller blocks of one week can make it difficult in some circumstances for employers to recruit replacements. That can create a difficulty for colleagues who are remaining in the workforce," she added. 

Both parents will have equal and separate entitlement to parental leave. 

David Stanton - Minister of State at the Department of Justice - said the government was pleased to work with Oireachtas members to enact the legislation. He announced that later in the year a new social insurance-based parental leave system will be available for parents, providing two weeks paid leave to both parents in the first year of a child's life.

It is estimated that 60,000 parents a year will benefit from the change. 

Mr Stanton said, "This is in addition to the two weeks paid Paternity Leave for fathers which commenced in 2016 and which almost 70,000 fathers have applied to the scheme since its introduction.

The Government will continue to support parents by providing greater flexibility in achieving and managing a work-life balance."