THE passing of a law to extend unpaid parental leave should spark a “serious debate” on improvements to work-life balance including the idea of a four-day working week.
Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall made the remarks while hailing the passing of the party’s Parental Leave Bill 2017.
The new law will allow parents of children under 12 to take 26 weeks unpaid leave, up from the current allowance of 18 weeks for parents of children under eight.
This is to be introduced on a phased basis with four extra weeks set to become available from September this year and a further four weeks from September 2020.
The Bill was passed by the Dáil this evening.
It comes after the Fine Gael-led minority government agreed to adopt the Bill and Fianna Fáil and Labour helped in getting it through the Seanad.
Ms Shortall said it’s “really important we have agreed this legislation and I think it will make a huge difference to the lives of so many families and children”.
She said it should be seen as the start of a new approach to enable parents to strike a balance between family and work life.
Ms Shortall has said that many parents use the current unpaid leave allowance to work four-day weeks to give them “breathing space” to take children to appointments or collect them from school.
She told the Dáil “We have a lot more to do in terms of providing paid leave and unpaid leave.”
She said “we might now start a serious public debate on how we can ensure that work does not dominate people’s lives to the extent that it does now where it results in huge pressures and huge stresses on people.”
According to Ms Shortall other countries and individual companies have been looking at the idea of a four-day week.
She said: “We are a bit behind the curve” and that the State has a role to play in encouraging employers to start trialing such initiatives.
Earlier Ms Shortall was asked by reporters if she believes the government enabled the legislation to “soften up” the Social Democrats as possible future coalition partners.
She said: “I don’t know if they’re at that or not but the Taoiseach has been very supportive recently.
“Unfortunately in the early days of this Bill we didn’t see that happen”.
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