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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 21 Jun 2001

Vol. 167 No. 6

Carer's Leave Bill, 2000: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 10, subsection (3), line 8, to delete "6" and substitute "8".

I would like to hear the Minister's response.

I am happy to be back in the Seanad to deal with this important legislation and I thank Senators for their constructive comments so far. As regards this amendment and others, we have consulted in great detail with ICTU and IBEC on the question of carer's leave. Everybody in the House accepts that the combination of the carer's leave entitlement and benefit is a good proposal. On this side of the House we feel it is innovative and family- friendly legislation. It is user-friendly for persons providing care and for those who require attention.

We feel that the Bill will improve the quality of life for people who find themselves in particularly difficult and trying circumstances. It will also benefit employers who will retain valuable staff because they can avail of this facility. In the context of discussions we have had with Senators, there is provision for people to work for ten hours and still receive the benefit and leave.

Because we have agreements with ICTU and IBEC, I must stick to my position on this matter of deleting "6" and substituting "8". The purpose of the six week gap between the periods of carer's leave for the same relevant person is to give employers time to recruit and train replacement staff. A Government amendment to section 9, passed on Committee Stage in the Dáil, recognised emergency situations in the giving of notice of carer's leave. I am satisfied that the six week requirement strikes the correct balance all round, both for employers and employees, given the differences in approach to the issue between ICTU, who wanted four weeks, and IBEC, who wanted eight weeks. I ask Senators to accept my position. Much compromise was involved throughout the drafting of the legislation. I accept the bona fides of the Senator's amendment but I literally came down the middle between both sides.

I appreciate all that the Minister has said. I agree that this is excellent legislation which is very welcome. I also appreciate that the Minister and his officials have had to negotiate with both IBEC and ICTU, as well as having discussions with my colleagues in the Lower House. As the Minister will be aware, we have had some genuine concerns, but in view of what he has said I will concede the point and withdraw the amendment. We believe the legislation is good, important and in keeping with the spirit of social partnership.

I regret that I was not here for the debate on Second Stage which was taken by my colleague, Senator Manning, to whom I am grateful. I have read his views in the Official Report, with which I heartily concur.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 10, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following new subsection:

"(4)6 weeks before commencing a second period of the carer's leave the employee shall provide their employer with a signed declaration from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs stating that, following investigation, the care recipient is still considered to be a ‘relevant person' under the terms of the Act and thus the employee is eligible to take the next period of leave.".

I would like to hear the Minister's reply.

The Bill as drafted requires employees to go through the procedure set down in section 6(5) of the Bill before obtaining a second period of carer's leave for the same or another relevant person. The inclusion of the amendment proposed is therefore unnecessary. Such a requirement would, in any event, be likely to be interpreted by employees as unnecessarily bureaucratic. If employers have concerns regarding whether the relevant person is still in need of full-time care and attention, they are free to use the provision of section 18. Therefore, there is a provision elsewhere for what the Senator is trying to achieve.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 10, subsection (4), line 14, after "leave." to insert "The total number of periods of carer's leave that can be taken by any particular person shall not exceed two periods of leave totalling 130 weeks.".

From what the Minister has already said, I take the same point and I am happy to withdraw this amendment, also.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 8 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 10, lines 23 to 31, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following new subsection:

"(1)When an employee proposes to take a period of carer's leave of between 9 and 18 months, the employee shall, not later than 12 weeks before the proposed commencement of the carer's leave, provide notice to the employer. If the period of leave anticipated is of less than 9 months but greater than 6 months duration, a period of 8 weeks notice shall be given and if the period of leave anticipated is less than 6 months, 6 weeks notice shall be given. Notice shall be provided in writing and shall include–".

Does the Minister wish to say a brief word?

I propose to take amendments Nos. 4 and 5 together. Section 9(1) provides that an employee must give notice, in writing, to his or her employer at least six weeks prior to the date it is proposed to commence the leave. The employee must inform the employer that he or she proposes to take such leave and has made an application to the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs for a decision from a deciding officer. The employee must inform the employer that the person to be cared for is a person to whom the Social Welfare Act is relevant and give the dates on which he or she proposes to commence the leave period. The IBEC view that the notice proposed is not long enough is reflected in amendment No. 4 and a revised period of eight weeks is suggested. We are trying to achieve the best consensus.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.
Section 9 agreed to.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Section 10 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 11, before section 11, to insert the following new section:

11.–(1)Where an employee has given notice to his or her employer and the employer is satisfied that the taking of carer's leave at the time specified in the notice would have a substantial adverse effect on the operation of his or her business, profession or occupation by reason of seasonal variations in the volume of the work concerned, the unavailability of a person to carry out the duties, the number of employees in the employment or the number thereof whose periods, or parts of whose periods, of carer's leave will fall within the period specified in the said notice, the employer may, by notice in writing given to the employee not later than 4 weeks before the intended commencement of the leave, postpone the commencement of the leave to such time not later than 6 months after the date of commencement specified as may be agreed upon by the employer and the employee.

(2) Before giving a notice under this section to an employee, an employer shall consult with the employee in relation to the proposed postponement of carer's leave.

(3) A notice shall contain a statement in summary form of the grounds for the postponement of the commencement of the carer's leave concerned.".

Circumstances will arise such as those set down in amendment No. 8 whereby an employer, particularly one with a small number of staff, will seek postponement of carer's leave to address urgent work requirements. However, given the nature of the circumstances in which carer's leave is likely to be taken I am satisfied that section 12 of the Bill, as drafted, will provide the necessary comfort factor to employers. Section 12 provides for the postponement, curtailment and variation of the form in which carer's leave may be taken, by agreement between the employer and employee. The section also provides that where the carer's leave is postponed, curtailed or varied it may, subject to section 16 of the Bill, be taken at another time. The Senator's concerns are accommodated in section 12 of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 11 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 14, lines 14 and 15 to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following new paragraph:

"(b) in the same or similar job to that which the employee held prior to the commencement of the period, and".

The issue was raised with me by IBEC following publication of the Bill. We have discussed this matter with the office of the parliamentary council to the Government. The amendment is considered unnecessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 14 agreed to.
Sections 15 to 19, inclusive, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 25, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 17, subsection (1), line 31 to delete "Tribunal" and substitute "Labour Court".

The amendment proposes that the Labour Court be the appellate body under the Bill with the consequence that all references to the Employment Appeals Tribunal would be replaced by the Labour Court. It was decided that the tribunal should be the appellate body under this Bill because of its previous experience as the appellate body under the Parental Leave Act, 1998, the Maternal Protection Act, 1994, and the Adoptive Leave, 1995. Given the nature and sensitivities of cases likely to be the subject of appeals under the Bill, we are satisfied that the tribunal is best placed to address such matters. The tribunal has traditionally dealt with individ ual rights issues while the Labour Court has dealt with interest issues such as those involving trades unions and collective bargaining. While appreciating the Senator's view I ask him to accept my position.

I am delighted with the Minister's remarks, with which I concur. I ask leave to not move all further amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 11 to 25, inclusive, not moved.
Section 20 agreed to.
Amendment No. 26 not moved.
Sections 21 to 34, inclusive agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

It is important to acknowledge again, as was done on Second Stage, the pioneering nature of this legislation. It is an example of the synergy that happens when two Government Departments – in this case the Departments of Enterprise and Employment and of Social, Community and Family Affairs – work together. It is a recognition of the contribution carers make to our society in all areas of life, to the elderly, to those with disability, to those with special needs and to those injured in accidents.

I thank the Minister and his officials who prepared us so well on Second Stage and I compliment him on the fine, detailed explanation he gave to us. In particular I thank Senator Coghlan and his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party for their co-operation. It is a recognition that this legislation will benefit not just Ireland, but in these days of debate on Europe it will set the standard for the rest of the continent. I compliment the Minister on being the person to drive this forward.

I am happy to acknowledge the need for this legislation and, as Senator Cox has said, its pioneering nature. It was remiss of me not to thank the Minister for his comprehensive overview on Second Stage. I picked up on that through the "blacks" and I now thank the Minister and all of his officials who were involved in creating the legislation.

I thank the Members of the Seanad for their constructive comments. We had a very detailed debate on Second Stage and today Senators have been very helpful in giving the Bill a speedy passage through the House. I was determined that this Bill be enacted before the summer because of its importance and I agree absolutely with Senator Cox who described the legislation as pioneering. I thank my officials and those in the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs who have worked closely and tirelessly on this Bill.

There is a lot of good legislation coming through our Department and part-time workers have been mentioned in the other House. Hopefully, that will be coming through this forum in the near future. There are lots of pressures on our officials to deal with all of the excellent legislation I am trying to steer through both Houses. Having said that, the ICTU and IBEC also have a role and that has been acknowledged here. They have again played a very important part in helping us get the right balance between employers and employees.

The legislation is good and solid and I am delighted to be involved in bringing it before this House but I would not have managed to get it so far so speedily without the Senators' help. I thank not just Senator Coghlan but Senator Costello too who played a central role in our last debate. The House might like to know that the number of applications for the parallel carer benefit scheme now stands at 608 compared with 602 last Tuesday when we had our debate on Second Stage. The numbers of applications approved of and awarded by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs stands at 230 compared with 208 last Tuesday and I have no doubt that when the Bill is enacted the number of applications will increase significantly. It proves to all of us that this is important legislation and we have not even begun to get our message across or to advertise it.

I said that the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs and I will jointly launch an information campaign to get this information out to members of the public to make them aware that there is a new provision for them to get carer's benefit. In many cases they are getting the benefit but my role is to help them get leave from employment. I thank Members for their co-operation. It was very important to pass this speedily today in which Members have helped. I also thank them for their contribution in making the legislation as good as it is.

Question put and agreed to.