Maternity Protection of Employees Bill, 1981: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Until now, most women in employment have faced a real and often difficult choice between the desire to have a family and the wish to stay in paid employment. The former "marriage bar" has been replaced by a "maternity bar", less obvious but no less effective. For too long an expectant working mother has had no right to return to her work after her confinement. In addition she often suffered financial hardship because of her loss of income. I felt this was a situation which had to be rectified forthwith. Since taking up office, it has been my concern that there should be no further delay in taking action; that this Bill should be brought forward in the shortest possible time consistent with its meeting the standards required of such an important measure by the Government. That those standards have been well met was, I believe, reflected in the all-party welcome given to the Bill in the other House. The Bill entitles a woman to maternity leave from her employment and to return to work afterwards. Its provisions, together with the new maternity allowance scheme proposed by the Minister for Social Welfare, represent a major advance in the welfare of expectant working mothers and eliminates a further barrier to the full participation of women in the life of the nation.

It is true to say that certain existing statutory provisions give some measure of protection to an expectant working mother. In labour legislation such protection is included in the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, and the Redundancy Payments Act of 1979. The Unfair Dismissals Act protects a woman, subject to certain conditions, from dismissal solely on account of her pregnancy, but its protection ceases at the point where she has to give up work in order to have her baby. The Redundancy Payments Act, 1979, provides that an employee does not break her continuity of service where she stops work for up to 13 weeks, during which she has a baby. In addition, the Employment Equality Act, 1977, permits an employer to give special treatment to an employee in connection with pregnancy or childbirth, despite its general prohibition on discrimination on grounds of sex or marital status. Finally, under social welfare legislation, maternity allowance is payable to a woman who satisfies the relevant social insurance contribution conditions.

These provisions are, however, too disparate and limited to be considered as an adequate scheme of maternity protection for the growing number of women in employment. They do not give entitlement to take maternity leave and to return to work afterwards. Neither do they confer the related right to job security during absence on maternity leave. I consider these three rights are essential to an adequate scheme of maternity protection.

Many individual employers and their employees have negotiated schemes for maternity leave, on a voluntary basis. However, the majority of female employees do not benefit from such schemes. In view of this, I believe the Government have a responsibility to take action, hence this Bill.

When proposals for protective legislation are being formulated, it is vital to bear in mind the views of both sides of industry. In addition, where legislation specifically relating to women is concerned, the views of the Council for the Status of Women must be borne in mind. Therefore, both at the inception of proposals for this Bill and during its further development, full consultations were held with representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Federated Union of Employers. I am confident that this Bill accommodates the interests of both employers and employees. The Bill has also been welcomed by the Council for the Status of Women. For many years, the council have been pressing for recognition, in law, that working women have the right to take maternity leave. The submissions from the council have stressed the need for legislative action to give effect to the recommendation on maternity leave which is contained in the Report of the Commission on the Status of Women.

I would like to emphasise here the great care taken in the Bill to facilitate the employer in the efficient running of his business. The Bill, therefore, requires the employee to notify her employer in writing, at appropriate stages, of her intentions. For instance, she must give at least four weeks' notice of her intention to take maternity leave. In addition, the Bill permits maximum flexibility as regards the employee's return to work; an employer must give her the same job or its equivalent. If that alternative is not reasonably practicable for him, he may offer her a suitable alternative job on not less favourable conditions. I feel this flexibility will be of particular benefit to small employers.

The two key sections of the Bill before the House are section 8, giving a minimum period of 14 consecutive weeks' maternity leave, and section 20, which entitles an employee to return to work after her maternity leave. As regards allocation of the minimum period of maternity leave, under section 10, the employee must generally take four of the 14 weeks before her baby is due to arrive and a further four after its birth. The remaining six weeks to which she is entitled may be taken as she wishes. This flexibility will enable her to be guided by medical advice as to when she should stop or return to work. In case the baby is born earlier or later than expected, sections 12 and 13 have been devised to make appropriate provision.

If the employee wishes, she may take four weeks' additional maternity leave immediately after her maternity leave; it will be unpaid leave. This will, for instance, give her additional time to breast-feed her baby.

During her minimum period of maternity leave the employee will be treated, under section 15, so far as her employment rights are concerned, as if she were at work. For instance, her right to annual leave will be preserved. In addition, the new maternity allowance under the auspices of the Minister for Social Welfare will be payable during absence on maternity leave. Additional maternity leave differs from maternity leave in that the employee's rights are suspended and no maternity allowance is payable during it.

I appreciate that proper medical care plays a large part in protecting the health and welfare of both mother and child. Section 16 will enable the Minister to make regulations entitling a woman to take time off from her work to attend her doctor or clinic, before and after her confinement. When the Bill has been enacted, I will consult the FUE and the ICTU with a view to making regulations as a matter of urgency.

As I explained earlier, the Bill lays down that the employee must keep her employer fully notified of her intentions regarding her maternity leave and date of return to work. Under section 9, at least four weeks before she intends to go on leave she must give her employer written notification of the date she intends to begin her maternity leave. She must also show him a medical certificate confirming her pregnancy and stating the expected date of her confinement. Under section 14 she must also give four weeks' notice of her intention to take additional maternity leave. Her right to return to work under section 20 is subject to her having complied with the two notification procedures laid down by section 22. The requirement of a second notification confirming her intentions two weeks prior to her expected date of return is included in case an employee is prevented form fulfilling her intention to return to work by unforeseen circumstances. This will be of particular relevance where the employee notifies her employer before, or early in, her maternity leave of the expected date of her return.

The right to take maternity leave presumes the right to return to work afterwards. As I mentioned, the Bill provides for a certain flexibility in this regard. Under section 20 the employee is entitled to return to a job which is the same as, or equivalent to, the one which she held before her absence on maternity leave. However, where the employer does not find it reasonably practicable to permit her to do so, he may, by virtue of section 21, offer her a suitable alternative job. To protect the employee, this job must be on terms and conditions not substantially less favourable to her than her original job.

The employee is thus guaranteed the right to return to work after her leave. To reinforce this, the Bill grants additional measures of job security under section 17 and 18. Section 25 applies the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, to deem it an unfair dismissal where the employee loses her job because she exercised her rights under this legislation. A dispute between an employer and employee for a reason other than unfair dismissal may, by virtue of section 27, be brought to a rights commissioner or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

I feel it is essential to the successful operation of the Maternity Protection of Employees Act to make adequate publicity available. I have already put in train preparation of explanatory material, summarising the provisions of the Act and indicating necessary procedures, for example for notification. I will have this published as soon as possible after the Act comes into force.

The Bill now before the House covers entitlement to maternity leave and to return to work afterwards. It does not extend to maternity pay. This is being dealt with under the Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill, 1981, sections 9 to 11 of which set up a new maternity allowance scheme for employees on maternity leave under the Maternity Protection of Employees Act. Under this new scheme, an employee in insurable employment will receive a weekly allowance during her maternity leave: the amount will correspond to her normal net take-home pay, taking into account the value of any tax refund. While she is receiving the allowance, she will be credited with social insurance contributions. The allowance will be subject only to the employee's being on leave under this Act; in other words should she not find it possible to return to work, she will not forfeit her right to the new maternity allowance. The Minister for Social Welfare is dealing with the question of contribution conditions and allowances in the Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill, 1981 presently before the Dáil.

As it is the intention of the Government to have both pieces of legislation in operation from 6 April 1981 I commend the Bill to the House and urge Senators to give it a speedy passage.

I welcome the Bill very sincerely as a most significant piece of legislation. It is perhaps a little tardy in that we are the last EEC country to embark on this particular path. However, we have arrived. The passing of this Bill may be seen as an extraordinarily significant development in the way society looks at and treats the whole idea of parenthood and working. It is obviously a first step in terms of recognising the extremely important social role of parenthood. There are certain other steps which it is essential to take quickly in order not to leave a situation where we would, perhaps, perpetuate the idea that a child has only one parent.

When we talk about maternity leave for women in the workforce, I foresee another spate of articles in the media and discussions and even perhaps politically inspired divisions between women who are encouraged to believe that giving women in the workforce additional protection and help somehow or other, to use a word which is thrown around, denigrates the woman who in fact chooses not to go out to work outside her home. That would be completely wrong. When we are talking about maternity leave we must remember also the fact that the woman having a baby who is not out at work and who has decided to stay at home is in great need also of legislative protection which she is not getting at the moment. This kind of legislative protection would involve extra support during pregnancy and when the baby is very young. It would involve extra support in terms of child-minding to give a full-time mother a break. It would involve, of course, the absolute right of a wife and mother to a full financial and legal share in the family home and income. In discussing maternity protection legislation, we must remember we are only talking about one small section of the workforce, the section of married women who go out to work. There is the far larger section of the workforce, of married women who work inside the home. I hope that in this House we will have many opportunities to discuss significant legislation to protect the woman who does not go out to work.

We have of course the dichotomy of problems. Here we are talking about insured employees. We all know that the wives of insured men are in a very weak position if they do not go out to work. That is another area we shall have to discuss before long in this House.

There have been fears expressed, I understand, by employers, by women and by responsible people in all sections of society, that this Bill may in fact discourage employers, particularly small employers, from employing women. All those fears and arguments were raised during the passage of equal pay legislation and anti-discrimination legislation generally. We women who were saying the unthinkable things, that we would have to have equal pay for equal work and have protective legislation, were told we were doing women a disservice, that employers would not employ women. I have a higher opinion both of employers and of the women in the workforce than to fall for that one. In every other European country where they have maternity protection legislation on the lines of this Bill it has not been shown that it has had an adverse effect on the employment of women. It is important that we should warn employers that there is a lot of legislation to protect women against such discrimination when they come to be employed in the first place.

However, fears about women not being employed are groundless. There are also fears, of course, that we are headed towards some kind of upheaval in society, that we are going to have women leaving the workforce in vast numbers to stay at home and thereby upsetting the whole even tenor of employment practices. The time is long gone when the even tenor of employment practices should suffer an upheaval. I believe this legislation will help to bring about that upheaval which is long overdue. There is absolutely nothing sacred whatsoever about nine to five. The concept of flexitime is one to which we have not begun to address ourselves in this country. The important concept of the role of the father in the home has not begun to be assessed by the workforce. The opposition and horror which greet the concept of paternity leave as an alternative or an option to maternity leave, after a certain point, not for health reasons but for solid family reasons, come not really so much from a deep hostility but from a fear of change. I am glad to say that the younger generation do not have the fear which older people seem to have of actually being asked to fulfil a role in the home which has become a deserving scene, seen as being extremely important.

This Bill recognises two things. It recognises the right of a woman to work and to have a family. It recognises the importance of the social role of childbearing and child rearing.

The Minister's speech was extremely good. I do not think he would thank me for pointing out there were certain pressures on the Government under the terms of the national understanding to bring in this legislation — and I welcome that. Trade unions in the past have not always been in the forefront on the side of equal rights for women. They are belatedly catching up now due to the great work of women within the trade union movement, women who not only have the great problem of trying to work and be parents but also have the problem of joining in the activities of trade unions despite the double burden which any working mother carries, that of working and of looking after a family.

We have provisions for maternity leave in all the other EEC countries and we should remind ourselves of some of the maternity leave provisions. I quote from "Working Document in the European Parliament," Document No. 1829/80 and it is the famous document which caused such a furore in the European Parliament about two weeks ago because in an enormous document of 181 pages two pages dealt with a subject which the Irish members appeared to think was the only subject in the whole document. The document dealt in a most fundamental and basic way with the position of women in the whole European Community and the future steps for women in the European Community.

I would like to mention some of the provisions for maternity leave in other countries. Perhaps we should begin now to refer to this kind of provision as "parental leave" instead of "maternity leave" which I think would be a step in the right direction. In West Germany maternity leave amounts to 14 weeks at full pay and since July 1979 it has been possible to obtain additional maternity leave for four months. In this case the maximum pay is 750 deutschemarks per month, which is a lot of deutschemark. The women also enjoy guarantees that they will not lose their jobs. In Germany when this scheme was introduced a public debate immediately arose about the position of full-time housewives: should they not be entitled to comparable financial support? A Bill has been tabled in the Bundestag providing for the entitlement of full-time housewives to support. I am aware that that kind of Bill is not around the corner in this country but any Government in Ireland who are not aware that this kind of demand is going to arise and is going to be pushed would be living in the clouds. I believe that motherhood deserves support inside or outside the workforce.

In Belgium, maternity leave is of 14 week duration at 79.5 per cent of gross pay; in Denmark, 14 weeks; in France, 16 weeks; in Italy, five months duration, two months before and three months after the birth; in Luxembourg, 16 weeks full pay; in the Netherlands, 12 weeks full pay; in the United Kingdom 18 weeks during which time the mother receives a fixed amount. In the United Kingdom a woman has to be working for a certain length of time in the company before she is eligible for maternity leave and one very good part of this legislation which we are introducing here is that a woman is entitled to maternity leave from day one of her employment.

I quote from the report:

There is an increasing tendency to extend traditional maternity leave by a period of child-caring rearing leave. In some countries this facility can also be used by the father. This is already the case in France and Italy and is being considered in Denmark. There is only one country where parents are entitled to leave to care for a sick child.

Ireland in bringing in this legislation is not leading the field but we are finally catching up with the field and it is a very good thing.

As long ago as 1978 when the women's representative committee were disbanded by the Government they brought out a final report. It was the second progress report on the implementation of the recommendations in the report of the Commission on the Status of Women. In that report they had a section on maternity legislation, which said:

An EEC report on the employment of women in 1972 stresses that maternity should be recognised as a social function and should not be regarded as an occupational disadvantage. Society as a whole and the Government in particular has a duty to see that working women are adequately protected before, during and after confinement.

That was stated by the women's representative committee whose chairperson was Deputy Eileen Desmond. The report continued:

It appears to the women's representative committee that the time has come when measures to provide for protection against dismissal during absences due to maternity, income maintenance during maternity and a right to return to the same or similar job should be extended by law to all women workers.

They go on to quote the ILO convention on maternity protection adopted in 1919. So, this is not a question that suddenly arose quite recently.

The Employment Equality Agency in their first report also stressed the need — that first report came out in January, 1980 and they were reporting on their first 18 months in operation — for this kind of legislation. In their report which came out in January of this year the Employment Equality Agency say:

It would like to see legislation introduced providing for crêches in the work place, the operation of flexi-working hours and the provisions of entitlement to parental leave both to fathers and to mothers.

It is not some voices in the wilderness talking about the need to extend this kind of leave and to consider it in a broader context of providing other support services for mothers. It is extremely important to consider the whole question of child care.

In this country it has been fashionable in recent years when one talks about a crêche or a nursery group to say women who would put their children into care of that kind are heartless mothers. I would like to challenge that. I believe that the mother who is working full-time in the home or who wants to work outside the home very badly needs very good child-care which is very good for children. A very small child will benefit from a one-to-one relationship in the home with the parent but a child who is beginning to toddle and to see the outside world can do very well in a crêche or a play group for a couple of hours a day particularly if it is the kind of crêche or play group which society should set up, a properly run play-group run by properly qualified people. This is one of the very big problems that working mothers face. Giving them maternity protection leave is obviously very important but then the problem is: there is very little available in the line of child-care and we should be looking very much into the question.

All of this is aiming at something which is now being called the symmetrical family where job opportunities are equal between the father and the mother and the family role is shared between the father and the mother. This is what we should be aiming at. This legislation brings us some way along the road to that situation.

I am rather worried that that part of the maternity leave which is unpaid is so short in this Bill. I would like to think that before long we will be able to increase that considerably with a right to return to work. We really must not give too little and then leave it without changing the position, because I would much prefer to see a mother having a choice of staying longer with her child than the period specified in this Bill. A European survey which is detailed in that same report finds that most parents in the Community would like a situation where either mother or father could have two years leave after the birth of a child with an option to return to work. That kind of time scale in Irish society is inclined to cause shock. I do not think it will be very long before we actually seriously consider do we really believe that the work in the home is important; do we really believe that security for a small child for the first few years of life is important, because if we really believe this — and no doubt there will be many speeches about the sanctity of the home and the importance of the parents of a young child — we should make it a possibility and should not be penalising either parent for having become a parent.

I see why the Minister wants this Bill to have a speedy passage, because there are other things allied to it and also because it has to be law by 6 April. The intention of this Government is to have both pieces of legislation in operation from 6 April. I believe this Bill needs a careful Committee Stage which I certainly would not like to see taken today. We have had complaints already today about the number of times this House sits. I am certainly prepared to sit a whole lot of extra days between this and 6 April in order to go through this Bill and discuss its implications, because as I said at the outset it is an extremely important Bill and it is beginning to pay some practical attention to something that Governments and authorities have always spoken about, which is the importance of the child, the importance of security in the home and the importance of full rights for fathers and mothers. If it is as significant and important as that, which I believe that this House is a very suitable House in which to have a careful Committee Stage.

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome this Bill this afternoon. Whenever one looks at a Bill such as this which Senator Hussey has now welcomed, and which received the same welcome in the other House, one can usually take a look at the Minister who is responsible for the Bill and his officials who concern themselves deeply with the problems of the people and just go away and do something about it and stop talking. In a constantly changing world I am not surprised to see Minister Daly here today with this Bill, because we must gracefully accept change and try to change where change is needed. Job security is provided for under section 18. The purpose of section 14 is to give the employee the option of taking up four extra unpaid weeks. Section 16 entitles the employee to take time off from work for the purpose of ante-and post-natal care. I understand this is intended to be very kind but I would like to ask the Minister how this is going to be dealt with when one is talking on the factory floor of replacing somebody for, say, one or two hours?

Section 8 entitles an employee to take a minimum period of 14 weeks leave and Section 20 entitles her to return to her work after her baby is born. I heartily welcome and support the Bill and its sections. They are a major advance in a field in which the Minister has shown more than a deep interest since he got his portfolio.

I would ask him to take a look at section 24 about which I have a reservation. I am not too happy about this because a person who is to take on a job only for a few weeks may find herself placed in work for the first time and then doing it only for a few weeks and leaving again for the mother to get back into her job.

I feel strongly about this and I may be chopped by my colleague in my constituency but I am going to say it anyway. I would like to pay tribute to the woman who can hold down a full-time job and raise a family as well, because I could not do it and I have raised a family. I understand that the standards of living in this country are now higher; there are carpets and there are two cars and there are all these things that were not there when I was raising my children, but I still feel that the woman who can do a full-time job and raise a family is doing a marvellous job. My worry here is that in the end with this system it may be the children who pay the price for not having proper parental control or attention in the home. I have said that now. I may be hauled over the coals at the weekend for saying it, but it is said. I am sure the Minister is accustomed to me by now.

Working at a very close range with the Minister, I am not surprised at all that we have this Bill here today. He has this lovely way of looking after interests of the women. Let me say he is looking after interests of the men as well. So, knowing and understanding the ethics of my Government and my party ——

The Minister is blushing.

He is used to that. Knowing and understanding as I do for a long number of years the ethics of the Fianna Fáil Party and of my Government I am not surprised that we are just getting on and doing the job. I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister.

I, too, welcome the Bill. In fact, in my present situation I cannot but extend a particular welcome to this measure for obvious and natural reasons. It is, as Senator Hussey has already emphasised, an important and too-long-delayed measure. It relates to the position of the married woman as a worker and makes necessary and very basic statutory provisions for protection of the married woman worker during pregnancy and maternity. It has to be emphasised how basic and essential a reform it is because we must view this Bill in the context of what the State has done and in particular what the State has still failed to do in relation to the married woman, whether it be a married woman in the work place or a married woman in the home. This Bill provides us with a welcome opportunity for a balanced and serious appraisal of the way in which the State views and protects or discriminates against the married woman.

Like Senator Hussey I would like the opportunity for a separate and detailed Committee Stage. There are a number of matters which I would like to consider and possibly put down technical and possibly minor amendments. Nevertheless I would like to have that opportunity on Committee Stage. Also I think if we go through this Bill section by section in a full Committee Stage it will give us an opportunity to examine in more depth what are in fact very general provisions and a great deal depends on the type of regulations or orders the Minister may make, the type of publicity that may be available, the type of safeguards for ensuring the right to return to work and so forth.

Taking this measure then, first of all as one which provides the basic protection and indeed social justice to the married woman worker who becomes pregnant, I would like to place it in the overall context of the many continuing discriminations that exist against the married woman worker. I would like to begin with the discrimination in relation to unemployment assistance and benefits. We do not sufficiently advert to the serious discriminations which exist in relation to unemployment and in relation to the attempts by married women to obtain unemployment assistance or benefit. In general married women still cannot qualify for unemployment assistance. Only if a married woman is not dependent on her husband and has at least one dependant will she be eligible. This brings in a married woman who is supporting an invalid husband — and that would be a comparatively rare though not totally unusual situation. It would also bring in a separated woman with at least one dependent child. But a separated wife who does not have a dependent child would not qualify for unemployment assistance though she might qualify for a deserted wife's allowance or supplementary welfare allowance. Again I think there is a very evident discrimination where each of a working couple happen to be unemployed — and I am talking about unemployment assistance, not about qualifying for benefit — because again it is the husband who can claim for the unemployment assistance. These are discriminations which reflect our attitude and our approach to the married woman who either wants to or needs to go out to work, and both categories of married women are entitled to the full support and protection of the State in going out to work.

Similarly in relation to unemployment benefit, we still have reduced rates of benefit in relation to married women. Married women receive lower weekly rates of certain benefits than those payable to other applicants. This is significant in cash terms per week in relation to unemployment benefit as well as in relation to disability benefit and some other benefits. Similarly the time of duration of unemployment benefit is shorter for a married woman than for another comparable worker and this is a totally unwarranted and unfair discrimination and yet it is part of our social welfare code. The time limit on the duration of unemployment benefit is generally 15 months, but for married women being supported by their husbands it is limited to 12 months. Ireland will be obliged to remove these types of discriminations under the EEC directive requiring equal treatment in relation to social security. That directive was passed in December 1978 but it has a particularly long lee time, time for implementation, of six years for full implementation which brings us up to December 1984. So if we have not put our house in order by then we will be compelled by the EEC to remove these discriminations in our social welfare and social security code by December 1984. But must we wait until the EEC hammer falls on us or until the European Commission brings Ireland before the court in Luxembourg for breach of its obligations under the Treaty? Surely we can anticipate and, indeed, from our own culture and our own sense of values, achieve a better balance, a fairer situation and the removal of legal discriminations which exist against the married woman?

Apart from these legal discriminations I think that one very real discrimination that exists is in relation to the low level of income of women, the low rate of pay of a married woman. In practice this is what causes the main differences between the social welfare cover for men and women and what we see then as the result of it is the low participation rate of women in the labour force. Again, I am referring to the figures of the 1977 labour force survey which show a participation rate for all women aged 15 to 65 of 32 per cent compared with 84 per cent for men in the same age group. This low labour force participation of married women — Ireland has the lowest in the European Community with the possible exception now of Greece — is an overriding factor in considering the position of the married woman. Again, because entitlement to social insurance benefits depends on contributions which are paid in respect of previous employment and therefore demand a continuity of employment, only women who are currently working or who have recently worked in the paid labour force would be eligible. This I think is the cycle of discrimination and deprivation for married women. This is aggravated by the fact that a great number of married women find themselves obliged, because of lack of other supports — which I will come to and which Senator Hussey dealt with to some extent — to take part-time, very often uninsured, work and they find they are outside any real protection either of legislation or of the trade union movement. It is in this context that we have to look at a measure which will make a significant contribution within its own terms to the protection of the married woman worker in employment and particularly during pregnancy and maternity.

It is fair to say that all of the discriminations that I have been referring to stem from an approach, a traditional approach — and there are some who see constitutional sanction for it in the reference to the special recognition of the role of the married woman in the home and that women should not be forced by economic necessity to go out to work. I believe that that is open to a much more positive and supportive interpretation than that rather negative view. But the approach is one which treats a married woman basically still as a dependant of her husband. That is the approach of the social welfare code; that is still very largely the approach of our society and we are only beginning to change it. In other words, I hope we can view this measure, and indeed I will be criticising some aspects of this measure in that context, as the beginning of the treatment of a married woman as an individual in relation to her own choice and own needs, as to whether she will work in the home and involve herself particularly in child rearing when the children are a young age or whether she will go, out of necessity or out of self-development or out of whatever motivation, and work outside the home. It is time we got past this old notion of the married woman as a dependant, of her rights as a worker as being only ancillary really to her main function in society and past the very narrow and still prevalent conditioning of men and women in our society. That is my first general comment.

Perhaps the Minister in his reply to the debate might give some indication as to whether it is proposed to anticipate the deadline imposed by the EEC directive to remove some of the discriminations in the social welfare code and whether we can do this of our own sense of priorities and values rather than waiting until the big stick of the EEC imperative arrives.

The second general comment I would make concerns a matter which was referred to by Senator Hussey, that is, that the Bill provides for maternity leave — indeed, that is encapsulated in the title Maternity Protection of Employment Bill, 1981 — but does not provide for the broader issue, parental leave. Like Senator Hussey, I believe that we should move deliberately in this direction, that we should certainly provide for maternity leave during pregnancy and during and after childbirth and should approach the whole question on the basis of parental leave. We should do as I understand is done in countries like Sweden, where parental leave can be taken by either father or mother. Approximately 12 per cent of fathers in Sweden I understand take parental leave in the early stages after the birth of a child. It would be longer than the four weeks following the 14 weeks provided for here. Nevertheless, parental leave is taken by the father rather than the mother in, admittedly, a minority of cases. It is very important to have this balanced approach in the context of parental leave.

We should also view the Bill in the context of the need for other supports and other facilities being made available to the worker, particularly to the married woman worker with family commitments. Here again I would emphasise the importance of legislative provision for proper child care, for creches and for pre-school and after-school facilities. One of the problems at the moment is that school hours for younger children are much shorter than the rigid working hours, the nine to five type hours, governing a lot of the employment of married women. We need much greater emphasis on these kinds of support. These supports are essential also for another category of worker, that is, the single parent, male or female, who is particularly dependent on these supports and services.

Apart from the need for an overall structure of creches and pre-school and after-school facilities, there is need for a review by employers and trade unions of working hours. Such review should take cognisance of the family. A nine to five cycle or, indeed, a continuous 24-hour cycle with night work, excludes women workers from opportunities of employment. We need much more part-time and flexitime and job sharing for the important family considerations in the context of parental responsibility and parental leave.

But in order to have legislation which reflects these values we need to hold these values more visibly in our society. Therefore, we need a social change in dealing with the question of families and parental responsibility within families.

Here we move into a neglected areanot a totally neglected area but so far a fairly neglected area of what I would like to call domestic politics. It is a key area which has been to some extent overlooked by the more radical women's movement, the more articulate spokespersons for the women's movement who have tended to focus on certain issues, a number of them relating to the work-place or relating to specific social reforms. Not enough attention has been paid to the importance of the politics with a small "p" within the household.

In so far as there has been a welcome change and improvement in the sharing of responsibilities within the home between husband and wife, mother and father, this sharing has tended to be directed towards sharing child minding and child rearing. In other words, in the case of a young couple now it is not at all unusual for the husband and father to share looking after the children, to share playing with the children, to share collecting the children from school, to share bathing the children, to be more involved than had been the traditional pattern. It is much less common, much more rare, to see the husband/father sharing the other chores. Indeed, as some body put it and not so long ago it is now regarded as being welcome support from the husband if he stands beside his wife while she is washing up or if he talks to her while she is scrubbing the floor or if he holds the dustpan while she sweeps the stairs down or whatever it may be. We have not got to the stage in domestic politics which is the essential core of equality at home and in the work-place of shared responsibility for housework and chores. Perhaps those women who are in a position where they have interesting jobs and a good deal of job satisfaction and a reasonable income from the jobs that they tend to some extent to combine the full-time job with the full-time housework in the home rather than embark on the difficult job of fighting the battle on the domestic politics front and trying to have a more fair and equitable sharing of the household burden as well as the responsibility for and care of young children.

Much more attention needs to be paid to the necessity for men to be involved in the house running and household work as well as in child minding responsibilities if we are to have genuine equality both in the home and in the work place between the sexes. That will involve a fairly substantial change from the present conditioning and perceptions and it will lead very naturally to the removal of the kind of discriminations that I was outlining and to an approach based on parental leave. All of that would follow because the balance would be struck in society itself.

Turning then to the measure which we are considering this afternoon, it is a particularly welcome measure in that it does provide the statutory maternity leave and what intrigues me about it is that the Government, as I understand it, are required by the national understanding to implement this measure and to implement it on the basis of 14 weeks paid maternity leave by April 1981. I would just like to reflect on that for a moment. It is interesting that out of negotiations between employers, trade unions and the Government there is a binding commitment to implement social legislation of a particular sort within a particular time-scale.

I hope they would not, but if this House decided that 13 weeks was enough, I wonder if they would be able to consider an amendment proposing 13 weeks, because they are bound to 14 weeks. The same might apply if we tried, for example, to extend what I feel is a very brief time, the four weeks unpaid leave. I would like to have an opportunity on Committee Stage to consider whether there could be a longer period of unpaid leave after the 14 weeks of statutory paid leave.

From the point of view of democratic accountability and leadership and the relationship between the Government and the Oireachtas, it is very interesting that the decision has been taken outside the Oireachtas altogether. The decision has been taken in the context of the national understanding entered into between employers, unions and the Government and it is one of the terms of the national understanding that the Government will ensure that this legislation will be through both Houses and in force by April 1981. Because of the kind of delay that Senator Hussey summarised and outlined, I have to welcome the fact that the trade union movement used the big stick and forced a commitment and a date and indeed a specific commitment for 14 weeks paid maternity leave. But I do question the desirability of having our social legislation thrashed out in that forum and then just processed through Leinster House. Perhaps as Deputies and Senators we should be more concerned that things have come to the stage where they are negotiated outside this forum and then we are, more or less, a rubber stamp to implement them and put them on the Statute Book. It may be that we are not doing the job that we were elected to do and implementing social legislation which is keeping up with the requirements and the needs of the young and fast-growing population that we have. That would be a view that I would have a lot of sympathy for, that we are simply failing to implement in a direct sense, failing to give enough time to various kinds of social legislation and so we find ourselves at the receiving end of a pact between employers, unions and the Government.

Whilst raising that concern — and it is a democratic concern, it is a concern about allocation of responsibility and political accountability — I would like to pay tribute to the negotiators on the union side, and I would also like to pay an individual tribute to Peter Cassells whom I have heard on many platforms for the last few years speaking, campaigning for and arguing for maternity legislation. He was one of the people, among others, who ensured that it would be included as provision of the national understanding and hence we find ourselves here today with a very tight deadline and with the Minister calling on us to have a speedy debate. However, as I have already mentioned, I am not in favour of the kind of speedy debate which took place in the other House on this measure because, by my calculations, having looked at the Official Dáil Report of 24 February when this measure was introduced, it was introduced by the Minster who spoke and three other Deputies spoke in that House on Second Stage and then the Committee and Report and Final Stages were put through and the whole business took less than an hour-and-a-half. That does not seem to me to be a full and considered analysis by a House of the Oireachtas of important social legislation. It perhaps emphasises——

The Senator should not reflect on the proceedings of the other House.

I expressed my private view and if the Chair thinks that I should not have then I accept the ruling of the Chair. Let me put it in a neutral sense. I found it surprising that an important piece of social legislation could go through all the Stages in a House of the Oireachtas in under an hour-and-a-half. It reinforces the point I was making earlier about where the real decision was made and in what context it was made and perhaps reflects on the Houses of the Oireachtas but I will not pursue that point lest the Chair pull me up again.

I am concerned about some aspects of this Bill apart from the basic narrowness of it in that it relates only to maternity leave and it does not approach, even in some measure, the question of introducing also the broader concept of paternal leave and making it clear that this is the way in which we will be moving and moving as rapidly as we can as a society.

Perhaps if I indicate a couple of provisions at this stage it will give the Minister an idea of the areas in which it may be necessary to table amendments before Committee Stage. For example, the powers of the Minister seem to be very broad in relation to the making of orders under this Bill. Under section (2) there is the kind of general provision which I do not particularly like in legislation because it means almost anything as I read it. It provides:

an order under this Act may contain such consequential, supplementary and ancillary provisions including any provisions modifying any provision of this Act as the Minister considers necessary or expedient.

I accept that such an order has to be laid in draft and we will have an opportunity to comment on it but, nevertheless, we have had a few orders in draft earlier today. It does not really give us much opportunity to consider it. I would like to ask why the Minister feels that he should take so much power to himself and what in particular is meant by the phrase that he could by order modify any provisions of this Act. For example, could he modify some of the essential provisions of this Act, and modify in what particular way?

Another important substantial point I am not happy about is the question of whether a qualifying period is necessary in order to avail of the social welfare provisions for statutory maternity leave. When this Bill went through like a dose of salts in the Dáil, the terms of the Social Welfare Bill were not known. They are at present under discussion in the other House. In the Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill of 1981, there are sections 9 to 11, and while I appreciate that they are not directly before us they are of immedpate concern. They are totally linked to this Bill. This is creating statutory maternity leave. The Social Welfare Bill is saying on what conditions a woman will get her paid maternity leave.

One of the features which was welcomed — for example, it was welcomed in this very helpful article inLiberty and by Rosheen Callender — was the fact that there was no qualifying period for statutory maternity leave. In this article which is published in the March issue of Liberty under sub-heading “No Qualifying Period” it is stated:

One very welcome aspect of the new scheme is that no qualifying period is required before a woman can claim entitlement to paid maternity leave. When she is employed and insured for social welfare, she is covered for maternity pay; the various contribution conditions for other social benefits do not apply.

Needless to say, this is something the employers are annoyed about; they had sought a qualifying period and argue that absence of same will ‘put off employing women'. In fact, they seem to think that the whole Bill will put employers off the idea of taking on women workers — just like the equal pay act, no doubt!

It seems to me, trying to link together the provisions of section 9 to 11 of the Social Welfare Bill, which we will have an opportunity of considering in detail later, that it is necessary to have the contributions and that the number of contributions are set out in that Bill in order to qualify for the level of payment for the 14 weeks under the statutory scheme. In other words, there is a qualifying period in effect but it is not in this Bill, but in the Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill. The Minister in his reply should deal fairly fully with that aspect and tell us exactly what the position is, not in this rather difficult statutory language but in plain English. He should say whether there is a qualifying period because although it appears that there is no qualifying period to obtain maternity leave and the benefit of it under the legislation that we are considering this afternoon, if one then looks at the Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill, there is a qualifying period. There appear to be, certainly at best, two classes of women workers who will benefit in different ways from the maternity leave. This should be clearly understood by all of us before we go any further in dealing with the legislation.

Another small point would be more suitable for Committee Stage but I will indicate it at this stage. I am not too happy about some of the language used in Part III on right to return to work. For example, under section 20 (1) (c) where there is a right to return under the contract of employment

under terms or conditions not less favourable than those that would have been applicable to her if she had not been so absent from work.

I appreciate the difficulty of being very precise but what does "not less favourable" mean and who is going to decide what is favourable and what is not favourable? Similarly, in relation to the right to suitable alternative employment in certain circumstances on return to work, what is suitable alternative employment? How is that going to be determined and what are the criteria for it?

One of the matters that I was going to raise very strongly when I got the text of the Bill was the question of publicity about its provisions because it places a very substantial onus on the married woman worker to notify. She must at set times notify the employer, and there are very clear and rather rigid periods for notification. I can see the importance of notification but I am very much concerned that there be much more emphasis on the publicising of the provisions of this Bill — and the Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill which will deal with the amount of allowances in the matter— than seems to emerge from the Minister's speech. It is not in the text of the Bill at all. The Minister talked in terms of publicity for the Act. He said

I feel it is essential to the successful operation of the Maternity Protection of Employees Act to make adequate publicity available. I have already put in train preparation of explanatory material, summarising the provisions of the Act indicating necessary procedures, for example, for notification. I will have this published as soon as possible after the Act comes into force.

It would be very helpful to us to know what the Minister has in mind. I do not think that newspaper publication is very helpful. It is there for the days that the newspaper is there and some people might cut it out, most people would not. Any woman who is not married or who is not pregnant is not concerned about it until the reality comes along. There is the possibility of tabling an amendment imposing a statutory duty on employers to have a notice in the work-place summarising the protection afforded by this measure and the requirements for notification by married women who wish to avail of the maternity leave under it. One of the criticisms that I expressed when the equal pay legislation was being brought in was that, despite the reference in the directive on equal pay and the directive on equal treatment to adequate publication of them, there never really was and there still is not adequate publication in the work place of the provisions on equal pay and equal treatment. Both the Minister's Department and the Employment Equality Agency have brought out very helpful booklets and pamphlets on rights but, apart from that, we should approach this question of publicity in the same way as we might approach the minimum terms and conditions of employment. If there is not a statutory obligation to give every worker a form which would set out the rights, at least it should be mandatory for employers to set up in the actual work place well publicised notices so that there will not be any unintentional or unnecessary deprivation of the rights and protections given under the Bill.

I extend a welcome to the Bill. It is very decidely a move in the right direction and I would like to see further opportunities in this House for much more debate about the whole question of work in relation to the family life of workers and indeed to family life in our society so that we can ensure that our social welfare and social security provisions and our approach to leave in the case of pregnancy are based on a balanced view of the shared role of parents in relation to child minding, house running and work opportunity, and then we will move more quickly towards genuine equality in our society.

The Bill before the House acknowledges that the needs of the working married woman should have the protection of the law and this principle has been recognised not only by the Government but by the social partners, by the employers and by the trade unions under the terms of the national understanding. This is a most important step in the area of social legislation. The Minister's speech outlining the provisions of the Bill was very comprehensive but he may have unwittingly referred to other areas which still need the attention of our laws if the legislation that we have on equal pay and discrimination is to be effective. I refer to what he said when referring to section 14 of the Bill, that if the employee so wishes she may take an extra four weeks' unpaid maternity leave. That is very welcome but in his follow-up I find the fine Italian hand of a man because he said "This will, for instance, give additional time to breast-feed her baby". Any mother, having had a baby who undertakes and is able to establish a successful pattern of breast-feeding is not going to throw it up after four weeks to go back to work and she is not going to throw it up after 14 weeks. That is a commitment she deliberately undertakes for a period of at least six months and possible one year. The logical consequences of what the Minister has said is that we really need facilities to enable women to bring their small children to work with them and look after them there. I am not talking about turning every office block and factory floor into a nursery, but neither am I talking about a gas ring to heat a baby's bottle on so that a mother can go down at her lunchtime and have a bottle at one end of her baby and attack the other end with a diaper. I am talking about proper facilities to be planned for at the planning stage of building, properly qualified staff to look after young children, flexible working hours, flexitime and generally the setting up of a system under which, and I can do no better than quote from the report of the Employment Equality Agency which has already been referred to and which speaks about

working conditions to be sufficiently flexible to allow women and men to respond to the demands of family and employment responsibilities.

The Bill represents a step in the right direction but its successful implementation will be only as good as the goodwill that it engenders among those who will have to operate it. The attitudes of women who work and women who stay at home are terribly important if the Bill is to work effectively and if other social legislation of this sort is to take the right direction. Therefore, I would like to speak in a general way about attitudes. Over the last decade or so things like the removal of the marriage ban in the public service, the more widespread use of birth control and more material expectations have meant that a girl on getting married does not choose to stay at home. In fact, the girl who does choose to say at home is becoming the exception rather than the rule. This, while it is welcome, has led to a complete reversal in public opinion. Ten years ago or so the woman who left her family to go out to work was regarded as a neglectful mother. Now if a woman chooses to stay at home she is regarded somehow as not fulfilling her proper role or her true potential. There is a tendency to denigrate the role of the mother who quite willingly chooses to stay at home. This has led to young married women being subject not only to economic pressures but to social pressures so that where they would choose to stay at home they feel obliged to go out to work. I find this deplorable. From my own experience, as someone who did make a choice to stay at home, maybe an involuntary choice but a choice nevertheless, I have never found that the task of rearing a family was stultifying intellectually. I have found, and many mothers would agree with me, that the task of being in charge of the development of young minds is mentally very stimulating and mind-stretching. I would remind the House that there is more to rearing a family than putting children into clean socks.

This point of view or attitude was brought home rather forcefully to me the other day when I turned on the radio and listened to that excellent women's programme "Women today". A middle-aged woman wrote in and she was employed as a child minder. She was looking after the children of another woman who went out to work and for being a substitute mother she was paid the princely sum of £1 an hour. That is the sum that my young children get for babysitting and all they have to do when babysitting is to ensure that the small children do not garrotte each other or set the house on fire. This woman had to step in and take the place of the mother who was out at work and look after and be responsible for those small children for that rate. I would say that if a married woman and her husband want a substitute for mother, they ought to be prepared to pay for such. The point that this woman who wrote the letter was making was that the woman who was paying her thought very little of her own role as the mother. I find this a very deplorable attitude.

A far more dangerous influence is the influence that is exercised by parents on their children's choice of career particularly when it affects young girls. I am not saying that it is a bad thing for parents to influence their children's choice of careers. It is a very good thing when that influence is well-informed and educated, but where it is not and especially where it is, as in this country, combined with a lack of adequate career guidance, such an influence, uninformed as it is, is dangerous to children starting their careers and also very dangerous for the economy as a whole. The attitudes of parents, of my generation anyway, are coloured by the fear that we have of the new and developing technology. We see it in terms of job loss. We tend to translate the media terms of skilled obsolescence and planned leisure into the more common terms of redundnacy and dole queues. Yet the facts are before us. We need to take advantage of the jobs that will be available. We need technicians. The fact is that young people do not see their future careers in these new developing industries.

I would refer the House to the Science Budget which was debated here recently in which these facts were put very clearly and very forcefully and in which certain solutions were suggested. Here I will confine myself to the facts regarding girls, because we are dealing with women in employment. Although we need thousands of technicians and although we have a great pool of people who need guidance in their future careers at school, less than three per cent of girls doing the leaving certificate in 1979 took the higher mathematics paper. The reason for that, I am afraid, has to be put down to the attitude of teachers. If one asks why a girl who has done reasonably well in the intermediate examination cannot take the physical sciences, which include such things as physics and higher mathematics, for her leaving certificate, one is told blandly that girls do not do higher mathematics.

The Senator's views are very interesting but the Chair feels that they are away outside the scope of this Bill.

It is important because it relates to the attitude of people putting their daughters into traditional jobs. We have to remember about traditional jobs that whatever the job loss is, due to the new technology, 90 per cent of that job loss will be among women. It is important that girls should know the options that are open to them in any employment that they take. It has been suggested that employers should be engaged in the process of structuring the educational curricula. I would ask why parents should not be concerned too. I hope that I have emphasised sufficiently the need for parents and career experts to be involved in education in order to ensure a more secure future in employment particularly for our young women. Women will bring about change in this field and they will need the co-operation and sympathy particularly of women like myself who do stay at home but who understand their problems.

I am very interested also in the comments of other speakers on the fine things that have been done in other countries in relation to payments for married women who have children, both in the home and outside the home. We have been referred to figures in Germany, France and in Scandinavian countries. I always understood that therationale of these Government incentives was to encourage married women to stay at home to enlarge their families to ensure that populations in these countries, which have been decimated by two world wars and by very liberal abortion and birth control legislation, would be improved. Women are paid to stay at home in order to have babies. Therefore, when we talk about these figures we are not comparing like with like.

Briefly, I welcome the Bill. I compliment the Minister on it and on his speech and I hope that on Committee Stage we can go deeper into the details of the Bill.

I would like to think that a Bill such as this one today has come as (1) a result of progress in a more liberal attitude towards women at work, (2) an effort to tap that great talent that undoubtedly lies in women and to maintain that talent even when they get married and (3) to try to meet the economic pressures that now fall on every married couple to go out to work. With regret I have to say that the Bill is before us largely because of pressure which has come through bodies such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Council for the Status of Women and the Employment Equality Agency and last but by no means least, the fact that every other EEC country has already such legislation. Whether that means we lay credit with those bodies or blame with the Government for being so tardy in bringing forward this legislation is rather academic at this stage. It behoves us to look into the implications of this legislation to see if it has gone far enough or too far. I undoubtedly welcome this legislation. I would like to think that it was a further process in a liberal attitude towards women in employment, but I maintain that the Government must take further have opened a box out of which many other matters will pop up their heads on which the Government must take further action and introduce further legislative measures. Otherwise the Bill may well fall through neglect or lack of willpower on the part of the Government, or perhaps through abuses of the very many provisions in this legislation. As regards abuses of the provisions of this Bill, later on I will mention a few of them which may provide loopholes for some employers.

There is no doubt that the question in Ireland of women at work has agitated many minds in the recent decade. Up to then it was a question of believing and maintaining and standing firmly by the principle that a woman's place was in the home. Even in reading the debate in the course of this Bill's passage through the other House, it struck me that here we found still being trotted out the idea that all Irish women still prefer to stay at home, but I am not so sure that that is the case any longer. Women in recent years have become far more aware that they are entitled to the same rights as a man in seeking a profession outside the home. Women now know that economic pressures are forcing them to continue to work. I remember a Bill coming into this House which was one of the first pieces of legislation following our entry into the EEC and which provided for women the same rights as men in equal pay for equal work in their places of employment. I remember expressing some reservations and saying that it could lead to an awful lot of problems for firms and that it could well result in young girls leaving school not being able to find positions open to them if many married women sought to continue to work. In the light of experience where so many women have come to me in the past seven or eight years and been adamant in insisting on the necessity for them to continue to work after their marriage for pure economic pressures if for nothing else. I have concluded that that legislation was necessary. That it was already in operation in the EEC does not take away from the fact that it was also necessary and desirable in this country no matter how slow it might have been coming.

It seems that all along the line we are behind every other country in taking legislative measures, and only as a result of pressure from bodies such as Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Council for the Status of Women, is anything being done. This Bill is before us for no other reason than that it was part of the deal that was done within the context of the national understanding 1980. That is regrettable but it is a fact of life and we must consider the proposals in this Bill irrespective of whether the Bill has come about through liberal attitudes or as a result of these pressures.

A good Minister.

I will not answer that one. There is no doubt that at present too many people in this country are chasing too few jobs. The parallel to that is that we are going to have too many women chasing too few jobs also. One of the consequences of this legislation will be the necessity to provide more and more extra jobs to fill this need. As a result of this Bill there could be pressure by trade unions to insist that where a woman leaves her place of employment for 12 to 14 weeks for pregnancy reasons there should be an immediate replacement for her. If so, when she comes back to work the young girl replacing her will be thrown out of employment to look for work elsewhere. We will have to create far more jobs at a far better rate than we have ever experienced here before.

It is not only in that line that we will have problems. There are no child-care facilities in this country, and the lack of child-care facilities in many places of employment could be an excuse put forward by an employer for his reluctance to take on a girl who in his opinion might well be married within two years and seeking this maternity leave of absence. The Government must tackle this problem of child-care facilities if this Bill is to be seen to be operated in its right context.

We have also the question of paternity leave in this matter. If we do not have paternity leave as a result of this Bill we are breeding further discrimination in the whole matter of employment and rights arising for everybody concerned.

Having made those points, there is no doubt that the Bill is welcome. I cannot imagine anybody but a rather chauvinistic employer being reluctant to implement such a Bill, or the most chauvinistic anti-woman female being anything but pleased with a Bill such as this. However, when one looks at the provisions, the terms and sections of the Bill and the way in which they are worded, one begins to wonder whether enough has been done to make sure the Bill can be implemented properly without many loopholes being created. For instance, section 21 (1) states that when the employee returns to work she is to be offered by her employer suitable alternative employment. Well and good, but section 21 (2) states that where the employer cannot offer the same job or an alternative job he shall offer a job in which the terms and conditions of employment are not substantially less favourable to her than those of her contract of employment. What is the interpretation of "substantially less favourable"? Are we not, therefore, going to have a situation where an employer can offer a job which is less favourable than the job she held previously, or will the union come into the matter and create a dispute because that employee is being offered a job which in their interpretation of "substantially less favourable" is discriminating against that employee?

Section 2 confines the privileges, if you might call them that, of this legislation but, as I read it, it restricts them to people more or less in permanent employment. It excludes people who are in part-time employment or employment for less than six months of the year. Here again we find that married women more and more are seeking such part-time employment to meet the economic pressures which are imposed upon them and I find it difficult to accept that the Bill is really facing up to the task of helping such women. There are always the less-privileged women, the women who have to go out and find work for even a few months in the year, and section 2 appears to exclude them from the privileges of this Bill. These are loopholes which employers may well utilise unless the Government show the will to insist that there are no loopholes in this Bill. If not, resulting from the operation of some sections there could be downgrading of the position of female employees in their places of work. That is to be abhorred.

This Bill should proceed slowly. On this side of the House we want a Committee Stage. I have given a few examples of where I think a lot of indefinite, vague wording can create many problems. Perhaps we can try to straighten it out to the benefit of the people concerned.

I welcome the Bill, but I believe that you can change a law and you can bring in a new law but unless there is substantial changes in the attitudes of people towards what you are trying to do in that law, it might never have appeared on the Statute Book for all the good it can do. If we can straighten out the possible defects that there appear to be in the wording of the Bill and remove any loopholes that an unscrupulous employer may try to find, we will have worthwhile legislation.

The Bill before the House is an important step towards having true equality between men and women, particularly in the area of employment. Until the early seventies, the idea of married women going out to work was unheard of. A girl's future on leaving school was seen in terms of a relatively short period in temporary lowly employment and then she was to take on the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. The idea that any woman would combine a career outside the home with one inside the home was something that was relatively new and not very popular. After a few years, employers and society generally accepted the idea that married women should work if they wanted to and that there was nothing wrong with that. The idea then grew that when a married woman had a child she would cease employment because, if she did not, she was neglecting her child and her family. Thankfully, with the introduction of this Bill, that concept will go and it will be realised that a woman who works outside the home is no more neglecting her family than the woman who stays at home, lies in bed for the morning, goes out shopping in the afternoon and perhaps does not look after her children at all. We have got to realise that a fulfilled career outside the home can often lead to a better marriage and to children growing up in better family circumstances than might necessarily be the case if that woman were at home all day. Many housewives who stay at home all day may not necessarily be very happy doing that but because of various pressures and the lack of provision of child-care facilities they are forced to do so.

The concept of paid maternity leave is not something that is totally new to our society. The public servants have enjoyed it now for some time but despite that fact, it is very sad, wrong and a disgrace to our country and our society that there have been no child-care facilities available to married women who wish to go out to work.

In welcoming this Bill, I am not entirely happy with the fact that we have not as yet made provision to have children properly looked after in cases where women are forced to work or who want to work. Any system of paid maternity leave must have with it, as an integral part of that legislation, proper child-care facilities organised by the State, local authorities or the health boards as well as those which are currently provided by private employers.

It is not good enough in 1981 to have a situation where there are absolutely no facilities for any young mother who wants to have her children looked after. This applied not only in the case of mothers who go out to work but to mothers who want to go shopping.

I represent Tallaght in County Dublin. This is an area which comprises hundreds of young married couples, many of whom cannot get a baby-sitter during the day while they go into town to do some shopping or to look after some important business. That is a disgrace when we claim to have true equality for men and women. At a recent meeting of Dublin County Council I tabled a motion to the manager asking him to provide child-care facilities throughout County Dublin. I was horrified when he replied that statutorily he was not entitled to do so. I hope the Minister will press to make sure that we will have, before long, a comprehensive system of child-care facilities, whereby there will be crêches, not only attached to centres of employment, but also run by the State and by local authorities, to make sure that children can have the proper expert care that they need, especially at a very early age.

In the Minister's Dáil speech he referred to the fact that the Government had given a commitment to the establishment of child-care facilities. He did not refer to it here today and I am a little disappointed about that. He said a committee would be established to make recommendations to the Government. I would like the Minister to be more specific as to the type of committee this will be and how long it will have to report. I hope such committee will comprise representatives of employers and trade unions, women's organisations. Government Departments and very importantly, representatives of married women who stay at home and who very often do not have anybody to speak on their behalf. I hope that the committee will be appointed before long and that it will proceed very rapidly to make its recommendations to the Government.

The important sections of the Bill have been well outlined by other Senators. Reference has been made in particular to the fact that we will have on the Statute Book that every woman who is in full-time employment is entitled to 14 weeks' paid maternity leave and a further four weeks' unpaid leave if she so wishes.

I would like to ask the Minister what the position is regarding women in part-time or temporary employment. People can be in temporary employment for quite some time.

Section 20 of the Bill entitles an employee to return to work after she has had her baby: that she cannot be asked to leave simply because she takes 14 weeks off to have her child. I welcome this section. It is a very important section.

I would like to know at what stage the employee has to indicate to her employer that she will be returning to work. Women might leave employment for the 14 weeks with every intention of returning to work but maybe for health reasons and so on, are not able at the end of the 14 weeks and the further four weeks, to return to employment. I would like to think that in 12 months or two years later if they felt capable of returning to work the option would be open to them in certain special circumstances.

I am delighted that the Minister has made allowances for women taking time off during pregnancy and after the baby is born to have medical attention. This is very important because many of these facilities are available only during the normal nine to five office hours. Women who work those hours may not have very conveniently available to them these medical services.

The Minister rightly referred to the fact that as soon as the Bill becomes law, he will organise a high-level publicity campaign and will publish a detailed explanatory leaflet outlining the provisions of the Bill. I am very happy that the Minister is doing this and I hope that this publicity will extend to every place of employment, that advertisements will be carried on notice boards where people are at work explaining the provisions of the Bill. If it is possible. I hope the Minister will send a copy of this leaflet to every married woman that he is aware of who is in employment.

Rightly, the Minister in drafting this Bill, consulted with ICTU, trade unions, employers and women's organisations. That is as it should be. I would not be in favour of the attitude conveyed by some of the Senators on the Oposition side when they said that this Bill simply came out of some sort of pressure from different groups. All Bills introduced by governments come from one sort of pressure or another. Those of us who represent the female community in the Houses of the Oireachtas are here because of pressure from women's movements and women's organisations. A few years ago there was no pressure and there were relatively few women involved in Irish politics. In a few more years, because of further pressures, there will be many more women in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I would not necessarily criticise the Government because they may have reacted to pressure. Governments at all times must react to different sorts of pressure from lobby groups if it is in the interests of the community.

I spoke earlier about the need for child-care facilities. Side by side with that we must establish in all places of employment the idea of flexitime, so that a woman can look after her children in the morning and can come into work at ten o'clock and work later in the evening or can finish earlier to collect her children from school and to cook their evening meal, if she so wishes. This must go hand in hand with any legislation providing for equal opportunities in the area of employment for men and women.

I would like to conclude by referring briefly to something which Senator Hussey spoke about: the attitudes of employers in Ireland. The Senator said that she was aware of the fact that they were very favourably disposed towards employing married people. I have no doubt that the vast majority of employers are. I have become aware in recent times of certain types of questions that employers tend to ask women when they go for interviews for positions, questions to which I and many other women take objection. If they are married they are asked if they intend to have children. If they are not married they are asked if they intend to get married. That attitude on the part of employers must change. Bills like this give married women in particular and women in general more opportunities to participate fully in the life of the nation; they will help to change attitudes.

Hopefully, the Houses of the Oireachtas will see much more legislation in this area and possibly in a few years time, as more and more young women become elected to the Houses of Parliament, we will have the other facilities I referred to. Perhaps in Leinster House in the not too distant future we will have crêche and child care facilities to ensure that married women who want to participate in public life and politics will be able to have their children looked after. I look forward to the Minister's views on these questions which are important and an integral part of legislation of this kind.

I would like to thank the Senators for the contributions they have made. There was little critical comment on the Bill. The areas which were criticised are outside the scope of this legislation. I should like to say to Senators, especially to Senator Robinson, who made some suggestions about social welfare legislation, that these are areas which are not covered directly in this Bill. The Minister for Social Welfare is examining them, keeping in mind EEC regulations in relation to social welfare. Other criticisms which were made can be discussed when the Social Welfare Bill comes before the House.

One of the major points of concern to most Senators was in relation to the provision of child care facilities. The question of child care facilities for working parents is outside the scope of the maternity protection legislation. Serious practical difficulties may remain even after the Bill is enacted for women who wish to continue working. In such cases suitable alternative arrangements for the care of a child are essential to ensure its healthy development and to safeguard the parents' peace of mind as well. I am establishing a working party on child care facilities for working parents. The terms of reference will be to examine the position of child care services and facilities for working parents having regard to ILO recommendation 123 of 1965 concerning the employment of women with family responsibilities and to make recommendations thereon. I am finalising the composition of the working party, which I will announce next week. It is my intention that the working party should hold its first meeting as soon as possible. I hope that will be before Easter and it may well meet some of the comments which have been made here by Senators which are outside the scope of the present legislation but which are very important.

I would like to refer to some criticism which Senator Robinson made regarding paid maternity leave in that it was part of the national understanding and that we were discussing it here because of the pressure which was put on the Government from unions, employers and from people generally. This is part of the national understanding and, as such, it has to be implemented. In the national understanding, in relation to paid maternity leave, it is stated that a statutory scheme of paid maternity leave for women in employment will be introduced and will operate from April, 1981.

It does not mention any specific number of weeks. Senator Robinson said that 14 weeks was mentioned in the national understanding and because agreements had been reached outside this House and outside the Dáil there was something wrong in that. When I spoke in Copenhagen at the conference in relation to woman last July I made a commitment that this legislation would be introduced and passed early this year. Long before negotiations commenced on the national understanding I had given a commitment on behalf of the Government when I addressed the Copenhagen conference. There was no specified number of weeks in the national understanding. A further criticism which was expressed was that the additional four weeks that could be taken might be too short or too restricted. For that reason Senator Robinson felt it might be necessary to amend the Bill to provide for a longer period. There is provision in the Bill that the four weeks can be extended by an affirmative order under section 14(6) of the Bill. The position is clear from that section.

Senator Hussey was concerned about the operation of flexible working hours, which can be of very considerable overall benefit to both employers and employees. Flexitime arrangements have worked very well in my Department since their introduction in late 1977. Employees with family responsibilities find flexibility of particular use to them. The introduction of such arrangements is entirely a matter for discussion between employers and employees. I do not envisage any change in that position but if there is agreement between both sides of industry, I would consider sponsoring any necessary legislation in that area.

Senator Honan was concerned about replacing persons leaving the factory floor and the difficulties in relation to women leaving to have check ups and medical examinations. I accept this is something we should bear in mind. I will consider the matter when making the necessary regulations. We will be making regulations under this section in discussion with our social partners to deal with this and we will keep Senators' views in mind then.

Senator Robinson dealt at some length with the areas of discrimination in social welfare legislation. This is being considered by the Minister for Social Welfare and I undertake that the EEC deadlines will be adhered to in this regard. The EEC directive will require changes outlined by the Senator. We are moving towards that area and, in the future, care will be taken to ensure that we comply with the EEC requirements.

Senator Hussey and Senator Robinson referred to parental leave. The question of providing for this leave is under consideration in the EEC Commission and preliminary work is being done with a view to formulating directives. Among the EEC countries only Italy has free availability of parental leave for 24 weeks following maternity leave. That is available to either parent. We should get this Bill through and get this legislation enacted. We can look at the other areas as possible future areas for consideration at a later stage. There was some concern about the publicity which would be necessary to bring home to women information about, especially, the areas dealing with notification of the employer relating to pregnancy. I envisage that we can mount a publicity campaign through the unions and employers. It is my intention to issue a booklet or some explanatory leaflets in this area. Under the Young Person's Employment Act we circulated some documentation about that Act to schools and other places, to employers and to Senators and to unions. I undertook to circulate that documentation relating to the Young Person's Employment Act when we had a discussion here on that legislation. I envisage we could do something similar in relation to this legislation. We should utilise television, radio and newspapers, and especially the unions and people who are in contact with workers. I shall ensure the necessary publicity to bring home to women the importance of the areas which are covered by this legislation so that we will get that message across. The criticism which has been levelled at the Bill in that particular area is being dealt with.

Reference was made to Part 3 in relation to returning to work. Some criticism was made of the terminology which was used in relation to Part 3. The terminology here is the best which is available. There may be some cases which will be brought to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. It is impossible to get better terminology and if there is any conflict the tribunal will settle this and full discussions can take place. Basically there is nothing by way of substantial criticism of the Bill which would delay its passage unduly. I would be very anxious to proceed to the Committee Stage this afternoon also. I think I have covered most of the points which have been made and I am very anxious that we should proceed with it and conclude all Stages of it this evening.

I would like again to thank all the Senators who contributed and to assure them that we are very conscious of the points which they made. We feel they are adequately covered under present legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Next Stage?

I appreciate the Minister's concern that the Bill should get a speedy passage. I share that concern. The last thing that I would like to do is to delay the Bill. But if we could just have until this day week, or Thursday of next week, we could sit specially, for Committee Stage, and I assure the Minister we would facilitate the Committee Stage. I know that my colleague, Senator Hussey, is under the impression that there will be a separate Committee Stage. I am anxious to consider the possibility of tabling amendments, even if they are fairly technical amendments, and to have the opportunity to table them. Also it helps to publicise the Bill if we have a separate Committee Stage in which we discuss in detail the various sections of it, and for these reasons we would very much appreciate being facilitated.

I have no objection to having the Committee Stage next week. I would like to get an indication from you, through the Chair, of the technical amendments about which you speak, because in the event of amendments here it could mean that the Bill would have to go back to the other House, which would mean delay. This is the only reason we are anxious to complete all Stages.

I will try to have the amendments as soon as possible so that they could be conveyed to the Minister. I think I indicated some of the areas at which I would like to have another look with the view to a possible amendment.

We may well be able to dispose of these on Committee Stage without the necessity to have the amendments to the particular section. My difficulty in amendments would be that we would then have to go back to the other House.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 18 March 1981.