A Good Start
by Patrick I. Dick
"Simply put, the more time that fathers can spend with their babies, the better. It’s a good thing for dads, for families, and for society."
This is how Ireland’s Department of Social Protection (DSP) responded to my questions about the introduction of paid paternity leave. It is a clear sentiment, and one I happen to agree with. In the home, paid paternity leave lightens the burden of childrearing for mothers by promoting the involvement of spouses. Out in society, it helps ease the motherhood penalty women face in the workplace.
Ireland’s new Paternity Leave and Benefit Act is imperfect, but it’s a good start. "It is a welcome move that positions Ireland closer to Berlin than Boston," writes the Irish Time’s Fiona Reddan, "with the US now one of the few outliers among OECD countries in not offering paid leave for fathers."
The new entitlement grants fathers and "relevant parents" two weeks off at the same rate of pay as statutory maternity leave: €230 per week. "Relevant parents" are not limited to biological fathers, but refer to same-sex parents, cohabitants, civil partners, and sole male adopters as well. Being based on Ireland’s existing maternity leave scheme as it is, it also includes self-employed fathers, who are not, for example, covered in Belgium. "This measure of two weeks paid paternity leave will give them a guaranteed income," explains the DSP, "which will make it a little bit easier for them to combine parenting with the responsibility of running a business."
Uptake is hard to predict. According to the DSP, "there are a number of factors that will influence the take up of paternity leave and benefit, such as parental choice, whether the father has sufficient [social insurance] contributions and whether or not their employer will top up their wages."
Because for most Irish men €230 a week is a pay cut, if a temporary one, this last point may be critical. Employers must grant fathers the leave and protect their positions until they are back, but uptake is still voluntary for beneficiaries (fathers), most of whom have a rent or mortgage payment of some kind to make every month.
And at less than half of Ireland’s median income, it is also unlikely to completely replace the income of many self-employed fathers for those two weeks. Where a worker is only self-employed on paper, Ireland’s paternity leave could widen the social protections gap between employees and their contracted counterparts since the latter’s payments won’t be topped up by anyone but their own savings or private insurance.
Publicly funding leave pay, and thereby making it available to the self-employed, will be welcomed by tradesmen and other professionals, though. And even where inequalities between employees and self-employed workers need to be reconciled, that non-discriminatory paid paternity leave is now in the labour landscape is positive. Ireland’s maternity and paternity leave quite a bit to be desired in terms of gender equality—they are neither generous nor long enough to both cover medical needs AND eliminate the motherhood penalty—but they are a good start for Irish parents. And their children.
About the author:
Patrick I. Dick, Consulting Editor for Population Europe.