The Adoptive Leave Act 1995 requires that adoptive leave may only be taken from the date of placement. The purpose of the legislation is to provide an entitlement to leave from employment for adopting mothers, equivalent to that of maternity leave entitlement available to natural mothers, so that both natural and adoptive mothers, and children, can benefit from the full-time care and attention of the mother from the first 16 weeks after the birth or placement.
A limited period of maternity leave must be taken before the birth, but it is not preparatory to the birth. The leave is provided to a mother in the last stages of pregnancy for health and safety reasons, which does not apply in the case of adoptive parents. It is not provided so that one can go out and buy a pram and so on. It is provided because it is thought that, coming up to the onset of labour, there are significant health and safety implications for employers.
While I agree there should be no invidious discrimination between adoptive and non-adoptive parents, the fact is that there is a difference. The need for the two week health and safety margin prior to the end of a full-term pregnancy is in the interest of the mother. In the event that an adopting mother requires time off pre-placement for familiarisation purposes, she can take some or all of the eight weeks additional unpaid adoptive leave prior to placement in accordance with section 8(5) of the Adoptive Leave Act 1995, while retaining the right to take all of the paid adoptive leave after placement. It is therefore possible to take an unpaid period off, two weeks prior to a placement. What would someone be doing in those circumstances? If the child is not placed, I imagine that the person would simply be making domestic arrangements such as buying baby goods. It is hard to see the analogy between the two week period for health and safety reasons and the period prior to placement. If there was a genuine reason someone in those circumstances wanted to take a week off, they could do so but the leave would be unpaid. There is always a risk, right up to the date of placement, that an adoption may not take place. In that context, what are we doing? Every pregnancy has its risks but they are not the same. The health and safety issue at the end of pregnancy is there regardless of risk; in fact it is maximised if there is risk.
I agree with Senator Jim Walsh that this is being done at the expense of employers, including small employers who have to carry significant costs at present. This country is struggling to remain competitive. I was looking at figures on growth in Irish wages in recent years compared with other countries in Europe and we are way ahead of them. I do not want to put an additional obligation on small and medium sized employers to furnish two weeks paid leave prior to an adoption. The analogy with pregnancy does not hold water. In the circumstances, I am not disposed to accept the amendment.