On 23 April, the Government announced that it had approved the priority drafting of the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019. This will facilitate new parents in spending more time with their babies during their first year. The leave and benefit will be set at two weeks for each parent initially. The Government is committed to increasing both leave and benefit to seven weeks by 2021. The new EU Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers provides for paid parental leave of nine weeks. Seven weeks of these must be introduced by 2 August 2022.The remaining two weeks must be introduced by 2 August 2024.
I recognise the importance of parental care in the first year of a child’s life. The Parental Leave and Benefit Bill is based on this principle. However, the Deputy’s suggestion that parental leave and benefit should apply to parents of children aged under one year even if they are born prior to November 2019 would be tantamount to backdating the scheme by a year. This would have significant budgetary implications for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for the payment of the parental benefit and for the Exchequer generally in relation to public sector employers. There would also be additional costs for other employers, for example administrative costs, lost output and the costs of recruiting replacement staff. With all of this in mind, I do not believe that it would be justifiable to backdate the scheme in the manner suggested.