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FactFind: Maternity, paternity and parental leave - how much time do new parents get?

Male same-sex couples are now also being recognised under the parental leave proposal.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Flamingo Images

A NEW PARENTAL leave entitlement for fathers was announced today prompting a discussion around how much time new mams and dads can and should take off when there’s a new addition to the family.

From November, under the new legislation, both new mothers and fathers will be granted two weeks extra parental leave on top of the current maternity/paternity leave entitlements.

For the first time, parental leave will also be granted to both parents of a male same-sex couple who have adopted a child.

So what’s the benefit for parents once the new bill comes into law in November?

In this FactFind, we take a look at what new mums and dads currently get and what’s changing in just a few months time.

Maternity Leave

Under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004, new mothers are entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave beginning two weeks prior to the expected birth date of the child.

Of the 26 weeks, eight of those – including the two prior to birth and six after the birth – must, under Irish law, be taken as leave, while the mother can then decide what to do with the remaining 18 weeks – return to work, remain at home etc. 

But is it paid? Yes, maternity benefit is paid up to €245 per week by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. 

Some companies opt to top up the payment from the state to match the usual wage received when working.

The qualification for the state payment is based on PRSI contributions and other payments already being received by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection such as the widow’s pension, lone parent, etc.

New mothers can also opt for a further 16 weeks’ unpaid maternity leave taken immediately at the end of the initial 26 weeks.

Paternity Leave

Currently, new fathers receive two weeks paternity leave which must be used within 26 weeks following the birth or adoption of a child.

Similar in kind to the maternity benefit payment, new fathers are paid €245 per week and employers can decide if they want to top that up for their employee when their salary is more.

Parental Leave

In addition to the maternity/paternity leave, parents are also entitled to a period of parental leave until their child turns eight years old – or 16 years old in the case of a child with an illness or disability.

But changes set to come into effect from 1 November 2019 mean there will be paid parental leave available to parents within the first year following the birth or adoption of a child.

Both parents will be entitled to two weeks’ parental leave, set to increase each year, eventually rising to seven weeks paid parental leave over the next three years.

Social protection minister Regina Doherty said the changes were being made to reflect a need for both parents to spend time with their child in its formative years, as well as challenging a gender culture which relies on mothers staying at home while fathers go out to work.

It means new mothers will eventually be entitled to 33 weeks paid leave, provided they have made enough PRSI contributions, while fathers will eventually be entitled to seven weeks.

To qualify under the PRSI scheme, an individual must have paid 39 weeks’ PRSI contributions in the 12-month period before the first day of maternity leave, or 39 weeks’ PRSI contributions in the previous two years.

In a bid to encourage men to take advantage of the scheme, one parent’s leave cannot be transferred to the other parent – meaning, if the father did not want to take his two weeks himself, he cannot transfer them to his partner.

Male same-sex couples are now also being recognised under an amendment being made to legislation which currently does not allow a male same-sex couple to receive adoptive leave or benefit.

So, overall more time can be spent with a newborn or newly adopted child for both parents.

But, how does that compare with other countries?

Ireland fares reasonably well compared to other countries in the EU.

In the UK, new mothers get up to a year’s leave, with 33 weeks paid at €164.80 or 90% of their average gross weekly wage – whichever is lower – plus a further 13 weeks’ leave unpaid.

Fathers get up to two weeks paternity with benefit paid at €164.80 per week, or 90% of weekly earnings – whichever is lower – and to be used within two months of the baby’s birth.

A further 18 weeks parental leave is available to both parents but is unpaid.

Norway, on the other hand, offers a lower 13 week period of maternity leave – six weeks of which are mandatory – but with 100% of earnings paid during this time.

Initial paternity leave is two weeks long but, and like neighbouring Sweden, it has a ‘daddy’s quota’ arrangement in which up to 10 weeks of paid parental leave can be taken within three years of the child being born.

In France, new mothers receive their full salary while on maternity leave either by the company they work for or the state – 16 weeks’ leave is mandatory.

Meanwhile, fathers are paid two weeks’ paternity leave, taken within four months following the birth.

Parental leave is available to both parents up until the child reaches three years old with parents who don’t work at all in this time receiving a benefit of €391 per week.

In the US, with the exception of some states introducing their own local legislation, there is no statutory entitlement to paid leave for new mothers or fathers, although they can take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave.

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