Dear Working Mother,

Last September Elaine and I attended a “Families and Work – A Chance for Change” seminar in Dublin.

Prior to attending the event I thought Ireland’s maternity leave policy was generous and supportive of mothers spending the earlier months with their little ones.

I was wrong.

Not only is our maternity policy not generous, in comparison to other European countries, it’s downright stingy and sexist.

Ireland is the ONLY country in the EU that has no well-paid leave (well-paid leave is classified as two thirds your regular earnings). Instead our maternity leave is subsided for 26 weeks and standardised for all women at €230 per week. After that you can take an additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave.

Though there is talk of change, at the moment, Ireland is one of nine countries in the EU that currently has no allowance for paternity leave. The father of your child is currently entitled to zilch when you’re little one arrives. This makes our leave policies, in my opinion, restrictive and sexist. This promotes inequality in the workplace and the home, never mind the fact that unless your partner has some holidays banked or a very generous employer, they get little or no time at home when baby arrives.

Our parental leave policy is the minimum possible as imposed by EU law. And it’s worth is a much debated topic of parents around the country, with employers often making it difficult to avail of this right in a manner that is useful to families.

So how does maternity leave work in a country that values their women and want to make sure that the future generations are getting the care they deserve from their parents (not just mammy) at an early age while also supporting equality in the workplace?

Portugal is a great example of an inclusive, progressive leave policy.

There is no maternity leave in Portugal – it’s called parental leave. Firstly, it removes the assumption that it’s just the woman’s responsibility to care for young children.

Portugal’s parental leave policy is split into three categories:

  1. Initial Parental Leave – 120 days calculated at 100% of earnings or 150 days calculated at 80% of earnings. 45 days is obligatory for the mother, the rest of the days are transferrable. The beauty of Portugal’s policy is that they also included an incentive for fathers to take leave – if a father takes 30+ days leave the initial leave will increase from 120 day to 150 days calculated at 100% of earnings or 150 days to 180 days calculated at 80% of earnings.
  2. Father’s Only Parental Leave – 20 days calculated at 100% of earnings and 10 of these days are obligatory.
  3. Additional Parental Leave – three months per parent at 25% of earnings.

Not only that but Portugal has two hours per day ‘Nursing Leave’ policy until your baby is 12 months old at 100% pay. And employees have the right to flexible work until their child is 12 years old (that is the right to choose start and finish times).

I want to go live in Portugal.

Over the years Ireland’s governments have created an environment which encourages employers to not hire women of a certain age as pregnancy causes problems. They are responsible for the gender divide that exists today. Their maternalistic policy shouts loud and clear – women are responsible for the care of young children.

Paternity leave is supposedly on the way…two weeks “paid” leave…but will it be enough “pay” to encourage the Dads of Ireland to avail of the leave? Or can they afford to take the hit of two week’s salary (let’s assume the “paid” amount is going to be paltry)?

Just this week, it was reported that a full year’s paid parental leave split between both parents, is under consideration as part of a new childcare package from Minister for Children Dr James Reilly. This sounds like a real step in the right direction… perhaps what’s best for the family is finally starting to gain some importance on our societal agenda. Let’s hope the difficulties to employers don’t dominate this discussion and we can start to follow in the footsteps of some of our more progressive European neighbours.

What do you think? Were you aware our maternity leave policy was so unequitable in comparison to our European neighbours? Do you feel our government is insensitive to what’s important to working parents? And will your other half take paternity leave or share parental leave should it ever see the light of day in this country?

Yours sincerely,

Martina Perry
The Working Mother