Early indications are that just under half of employers plan to top up the weekly paternity benefit of €230 that fathers will receive from the State to bring it up to the level they are normally paid when the scheme comes into effect next September.
There are warnings that for a father who is the breadwinner in the home or whose partner normally works but is also reduced to the €230 weekly maternity benefit, the income drop would be too much to manage while trying to meet the extra costs of a new baby.
Public servants will have full wages paid while taking their two weeks’ paternity leave, as is policy for female employees on maternity leave. The public sector accounts for 18% of all jobs.
Small and medium businesses employ 52% of private-sector workers. Only one in five can expect to have their benefit payment topped up — and not necessarily to their full wage.
Of the larger firms, employers’ group Ibec says 59% usually top up their female employees’ pay while on maternity leave. A similar proportion are expected to do the same for fathers, but not all to their full wage.
Patricia Callan, director of the Small Firms Association, said smaller companies would not be able to afford the extra cost of keeping an employee on paternity leave on his full wage.
Ms Callan said: “For larger firms it’s more of an equality issue because quite a lot of them will be topping up maternity benefit for female employees on maternity leave, but for smaller firms, it’s hard to get beyond the issue of cost because so many firms are really struggling to just keep going.”
She said she believes the inability of employers to provide top-ups would act as a barrier to men who would otherwise take time off when their baby arrives.
“Whether they will take it up depends on their own finances. At the moment fathers tend to negotiate locally to get their annual leave when the baby arrives so they don’t lose out on earnings,” said Ms Callan.
“I think that practice will continue for a lot of fathers, particularly if the father is the sole earner or if both parents are reduced to welfare. It will be interesting to see but in no way would there be 100% take-up of the scheme.”
Isme chief executive Mark Fielding said expecting even 20% of smaller businesses to top up paternity benefit was too optimistic. “What our members are saying is that if somebody wants to go on paternity leave, that’s their right, but they won’t be topping it up. That was well over 85%, touching 90%, of the responses,” he said.
“It had to come in. It’s only right and proper that it’s in, and we don’t have a problem with the principle of it, but it’s just another headache for us.”
The National Women’s Council of Ireland urged employers to do their best to support fathers by topping up their benefit.
“There are profits being made now and we think it’s important that employers would prioritise it,” said director, Orla O’Connor.
“It’s a huge disincentive not to have the top-up. This is about changing the whole culture around responsibility for childcare. It’s the first time we are recognising that fathers have a right and responsibility for sharing the job and it would be a shame if there isn’t a good take-up of the leave.”