Thursday, 1 June 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
8. Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when, arising from the commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, it is intended to commence and complete the review of maternity protection legislation; if his attention has been drawn to a report produced by the Centre for Women's Studies, Trinity College Dublin which found that our maternity laws were out of date and should be amended to encourage women to rejoin the workforce; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15449/00]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace): A review of the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, is being undertaken by my Department in accordance with An Action Programme for the Millennium which provides that key priorities regarding women's rights will include the review and improvement of maternity protection legislation. My Department has sought and received views from representatives of employers and employees, other interested bodies and relevant Departments and agencies on the legislation. A working group of the various parties has been established to discuss the comments received and identify the areas where improvements to the legislation might be warranted. There have been three meetings of the working group to date. In accordance with the commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness it is intended to complete the review by September 2000.
I assume the Deputy is referring to the study entitled, New Mothers at Work, conducted by the Isis Research Group, Centre for Women's Studies, Trinity College Dublin for the Employment Equality Agency. The Equality Authority, which has replaced the Employment Equality Agency, is represented on the working group to which I have asked that a copy of the report be circulated.
Mr. Howlin: Does the Minister of State agree with the view that our existing maternity laws are out of date? Does she accept that the 1994 Act provides for the bare minimum required by EU regulations? Does she further accept the views expressed by Dr. Murphy-Lawless of the Centre for Women's Studies, Trinity College Dublin that the lack of improved legislation is having a profound impact on the social and economic potential of society? When can we expect to see specific proposals to address these urgent issues?
Miss M. Wallace: Dr. Murphy-Lawless is one of the authors of the study entitled, New Mothers at Work, which makes many interesting and important findings and in respect of which 30 women in three different workplaces were interviewed. The principal issues identified include the physical requirements of pregnancy, length of leave, adjustments, breastfeeding facilities, and the need for more flexible work packages to smooth the return to work in line with their  responsibilities as mothers. These issues are being discussed by the group reviewing the Maternity Protection Act, 1994. The Deputy asked if the Act is out of date. In An Action Programme for the Millennium the Government identified the review and improvement of maternity protection legislation as an issue for women.
Miss M. Wallace: In the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness it gave a commitment to complete the review by September 2000. The review committee has met on three occasions and is due to meet again on 19 June.
Mr. Howlin: Does the Minister of State attend the meetings of the review committee? Has she prepared a Government position paper on the matters to which she referred and which are outlined in the study entitled, New Mothers at Work, as barriers to women participating fully in the workforce? When will we see amending legislation before the Dáil? What is the indicative timescale?
Miss M. Wallace: Meetings of the review committee are chaired by a senior official of my Department which also provides secretarial assistance. It is also represented by another official. Other relevant Departments are also represented. All the social partners were at the table – ICTU, IBEC, the National Women's Council of Ireland and the farming organisations. Most important, the research was done by the Employment Equality Agency so the Equality Authority, which replaced the agency, is at the table along with the Health and Safety Authority. There is no doubt that all relevant players are at the table carrying out an in-depth review of legislation. We have drawn to their attention the increasing participation of women in the workplace and it is important to review legislation at this stage. There is a deadline of September 2000 for the review group report. There is no point in us saying what we think the group should report. We will take its considerations on board when it reports.
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