Government backs reproductive health-related leave bill in principle

Senator Ivana Bacik
Senator Ivana Bacik

The government has lent backing in principle to proposed legislation to introduce reproductive health-related leave in Ireland, including paid leave for employees who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth.

A private member’s bill to introduce reproductive health-related leave through an amendment to the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 passed second reading in the Seanad on Monday.

Moving the bill, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said: “This is not a uniquely Irish issue. As it happens, in late March this year, the Labour Party of New Zealand, under Jacinda Ardern, passed very similar legislation to provide for leave for employees who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth.

“The debate around our bill, and internationally around the New Zealand law, has ignited a conversation about the need to face up to the complexity of fertility and reproductive health issues, and the need for the State to provide practical recognition for the role it plays in employees’ lives.”

She added: “Since we published the bill, my Labour Party colleagues and I have been contacted by many women and couples who have endured the grief and bereavement of early miscarriage, often in silence, or who have gone through multiple cycles of IVF and fertility treatment, and who have felt that there was nobody to whom they could turn within the workplace and no formal space in our law for their grief to be recognised.”

Damien English, minister of state with responsibility for employment law, told Senators that the government supports “the principle of the legislation” but disagrees that an amendment to the 1997 Act is the “appropriate legislative mechanism”.

Mr English said: “The Organisation of Working Time Act was to provide for the implementation of the European working time directive. It sets out an employee’s maximum working hours and entitlements to minimum rest periods and a minimum period of paid annual leave but it was not designed to be the instigator of new policies or to set out the terms and conditions regarding specific forms of compassionate leave.

“While it can be adjusted to recognise other policy changes, we do not believe it is the legislation to use. That is not a criticism; we just believe it is better to have stand-alone legislation. I will be happy to work with the Senators on that.

“As this bill progresses, it will probably give us an opportunity to develop our thinking in this regard and to work it out together. That is what the Tánaiste wants to do because our Department recognises it is important from an employment point of view, but it might not need to be led through employment legislation. More than likely, it will be an equality matter.”

Ms Bacik said she was inclined to agree with the minister and said it could instead come as an amendment to the employment equality legislation.

She added: “These are technical matters. What is important to all of us here tonight and all those affected by the issues we are discussing is that the principle be recognised and that there should be statutory recognition for time off work for people who need it where they have experienced miscarriage, the loss of a wanted pregnancy or are enduring IVF or other fertility or reproductive health treatments.

“I am happy to continue to work with the minister of state and other colleagues in this House on this issue.”

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