Dáil Éireann - Volume 538 - 21 June, 2001

Written Answers. - Maternity Leave.

147. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason a person (details supplied) in County Sligo is not entitled [1219] to extra maternity leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18395/01]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The Maternity Protection Act, 1994, has been amended by means of an order which was made on 8 February 2001. This amendment entitles a pregnant employee who commences maternity leave at any time on or after 8 March 2001 to maternity leave consisting of 18 consecutive weeks paid leave and eight consecutive weeks unpaid leave. A woman who commences additional unpaid maternity leave on or after 8 March 2001 is entitled to avail of eight weeks unpaid leave.

The person to whom the Deputy refers commenced her maternity leave on 7 March. She would have needed to commence her maternity leave on or after 8 March 2001 to be entitled to the extension to the paid portion of maternity leave. As it is presumed that she did not commence unpaid maternity leave until on or after 8 March she is entitled to apply for eight weeks unpaid leave, instead of four weeks, if she so wishes.

I wish to clarify the position regarding the commencement date for the increased entitlements. On 6 December the Minister for Finance announced that the increased entitlements would apply from early April 2001. Most increases provided by the annual social welfare Bill apply from April or even somewhat later.

After the budget announcement, officials in my Department looked into the most appropriate method of applying the increased entitlements to maternity leave and the possibility of applying the maternity leave increases not only to women who commenced maternity leave from early April but also to women who went on leave prior to that date. These issues were examined in conjunction with officials from the Departments of Finance and Social, Community and Family Affairs and the Attorney General's office. It was decided that the only practical method of implementing the increased entitlement to leave was to base it on the date of commencement of leave.

It is essential that an order made under the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, complies with that Act. The Attorney General advised me that it would not be possible to have the order extend the increased period of maternity leave to those persons who could not comply with the notice requirements, that is to employer by employee, of the parent Act and that any attempt to make the order retrospective could be deemed to adversely affect the rights of employers and would be open to challenge. The increases in maternity leave are not merely a matter of the State paying out extra weeks of maternity benefit. They have major impact on employers in many ways, for example the need to replace employees for a longer period than expected and in some cases contractual obligations in respect of payment.

[1220] The effective dates of the increases, as set out in the order, take account of the notice requirements under the Act.

My aim was to implement the increases in maternity leave as far in advance of 2 April 2001 as possible while still complying with the parent Act. The position is that the need to comply with the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, limited the extent to which the increases could be applied to persons who commenced maternity leave before 8 March 2001.