Irish parents could have up to four months of paid parental leave to encourage fathers to take on more parenting duties, according to a proposal by Brussels.
Ireland is one of only six EU countries where employers are not obliged to pay workers if they take parental leave.
The European Commission, who created this work-life balance directive, stated that while this initiative hopes to encourage more dads to stay home, the aim is to improve the long-term employment rate and earnings of mothers.
While many parents would rejoice at the opportunity to take paid parental leave, the proposal isn't popular amongst everyone. Business Europe, which IBEC (the largest Irish business lobbying group) is a member of, has accused Brussels of overstepping its power over businesses. It has called the proposal 'unaffordable'.
“What people want from us is to create jobs; what they do not want are proposals that harm job creation by increasing labour costs,” Markus Beyrer, Business Europe director-general, told the Financial Times in April, when the proposal draft was published.
.@VDombrovskis @TimmermansEU @mariannethyssen @VeraJourova @EU_Social @EU_Justice @ChristianWigand All you need to know about our #WorkLifeBalance initiative presented today: https://t.co/51b3gbIsss #SocialRights pic.twitter.com/IZamsJqk5a— European Commission (@EU_Commission) 26 April 2017
The EC explained their position: "Although more and more women are highly qualified, and 65 per cent of graduates today in Europe are women; there are still 11.6 percentage points fewer women in employment than men. In 2015, the average employment rate of women with one child under six years of age was 8.8 percentage points lower than that of women without young children, and in the several Member States this difference is above 30 percentage points."
According to the EC, the reason for this is, women traditionally taking parental leave and most of the childcare duties, rather than the child's father: "One of the reasons for this is that opportunities for men to share family responsibilities on an equal basis with women are still limited. Available leave provisions are indeed mostly taken up by women, thereby reproducing gender inequality in the labour market and in the household."
To become law, the measures would need the support of a majority of MEPs and member states. The programme for government includes a commitment to increase paid parental leave in the first year of a child's life from the current 26 weeks' paid maternity leave and two weeks' paid paternity leave.
Currently, Maternity Benefit is paid for 26 weeks (156 days) by the state. Maternity Benefit is a six-day week payment which covers Monday to Saturday.
Irish parents can currently take up to 18 weeks parental leave, but there's no law making employers pay you for this period. As of last September, fathers can now get two weeks of paternity leave which the state pays at the same rate for mothers, €230.
The commission also wants to increase the age limit of children that parents can take leave from eight years old to 12.
Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland welcomed the EU proposal.
"Having parental leave paid means men will be more likely to take it up," she told the Sunday Times. "While we do have high numbers of women participating in work in Ireland, they are still doing all the caring work, so there needs to be a greater sharing between women and men. This is a really important area for women's equality, that there is greater equality in taking on the care responsibilities at home."
We can imagine this would extend to same-sex couples equally, as the September Irish paternity leave law benefits children of adoption and LGBT fathers.
What do you think, mums? Would four-month paid parental leave help you balance childcare and work?