Before the adjournment I was expressing concern that we seemed to be rowing back on the famous section 5 in the original Bill where the Minister after consultation with another Minister could issue regulations to exempt some provisions in relation to certain classes. The Government amendment allows the Minister to make regulations in respect of the form in which leave may be taken by any specified class or classes, where the application for carer's leave has been made and is proposed to be taken in a number of periods, the aggregate duration of which does not exceed 65 weeks from date of commencement. I am concerned at the inclusion of the phrase, "any specified class or classes of employees". As I stressed in the earlier part of the debate, the key role of caring in society must be recognised.
I accept the statement by the Minister of State earlier that the Bill is another step in that direction, perhaps a historic step. All workers should have equal entitlement to the 65 weeks, provided they meet the specified criteria under section 6. Why do we need the phrase "by any specified class or classes of employees"? Are we reverting to the former situation where, in effect, the Government was prepared to ensure that certain sectors of the workforce would not be able to avail of this? Members of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána, who collectively number more than 20,000, should not have their right to act as family carers impeded. I ask the Minister of State to clarify this issue and to indicate that he is not seeking to put a barrier to the equal rights of all classes of workers, whether in the public or private sectors, to avail of carer's leave and benefit.