Dáil Éireann - Volume 566 - 13 May, 2003

Written Answers. - Maternity Leave.

  179. Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department has examined the implications for business of an extension of maternity leave to 26 weeks of paid ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of unpaid additional maternity leave introduced by the British Government in April. [8167/03]

[927]  Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): A review of the maternity protection legislation was carried out in 2000 by a working group, chaired by my Department. It consisted of social partners and relevant Departments and agencies. The group was set up in accordance with commitments in the Government's programmes, An Action Programme for the Millennium and the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. The report of the working group on the review and improvement of the maternity protection legislation was published in February 2001. During the course of its deliberations it considered the maternity leave schemes in operation at that time in other EU member states.

  Among its recommendations the group recommended an increase in the maternity leave entitlement, which attracts a payment from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, from 14 weeks to 18 weeks and an increase in the unpaid additional maternity leave entitlement from four weeks to eight weeks. These increases were announced in budget 2001 and implemented by means of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2001 (S.I. No. 29 of 2001) with effect from 8 March 2001. Identical increases were simultaneously applied to the adoptive leave entitlement.

  During its deliberations in relation to the increase in the maternity leave periods, the group considered the benefits and costs to employers and to the economy generally. The benefit to employers and industry, to the extent that increased maternity leave periods facilitates the increased participation and retention of women in the labour force, was among the factors considered. The Irish Business and Employers Confederation, the Department of Finance and the Health Service Employers' Agency were represented on the group. Costs were taken into account when they agreed to the recommendations.

  The Maternity Protection (Amendment) Bill 2003 was published on 2 May and we aim to have the legislation enacted by the end of 2003. Its enactment will implement the outstanding recommendations of the maternity protection review group. It will fulfil a statutory component of the work-life balance programmes to which the Government is committed to under the Sustaining Progress agreement. The recently published Bill makes no provision for a further extension of the maternity leave periods beyond the improvements implemented in 2001. As a result, the implications for business of following the new UK model have not been considered.