Unlike Government, Irish businesses are starting to offer paid leave for fertility treatment and surrogacy
As bills regarding establishing safeties and paid leave for fertility treatments and surrogacy continue to languish in government, companies like Vodafone Ireland are stepping up to the plate.
Last year, one woman’s experience of menopause on RTÉ’s LiveLine became a lightning rod for a wider conversation about how we treat women’s health in this country. From menopause and menstruation to fertility and surrogacy, we cater very little to women’s health issues outside of pregnancy when it comes to clinical support, education or paid leave.
Women are so often shamed into silence on these issues, periods spoken of in hushed tones from school-going age and a continued stigma attached to openly discussing fertility issues, whether that’s with our family and friends, or our colleagues and bosses.
Thankfully, some corners of Irish society have been listening to the issues that face many working women. Vodafone Ireland, headed up by CEO Anne O’Leary, announced this week that it would extend its full-pay 26 weeks’ maternity leave offering to those who become parents via surrogacy, as well as 16 weeks’ paid leave for the non-primary caregiver, whether they become a parent through birth, adoption or surrogacy. On top of that, they announced ten days’ paid leave for employees experiencing pregnancy loss before 24 weeks, whether it happens to them, their partner or their surrogate.
For fertility treatment, as well as flexible and hybrid working options, there will also be ten paid working days leave each year for those undergoing treatment and two days for their partners. “We know the road to parenthood is not always easy and so we have developed these additional policies,” said O’Leary at the announcement. “Our policy is to encompass both the highs and lows, ensuring we are there for our employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss, surrogacy as well as maternity and parental leave.”
Paid leave at Governmental levels
Meanwhile, bills regarding similar policies at a governmental level continue to languish. Two Irish families remain in Ukraine as Russia crashes over its border in the hopes of getting their newborn babies, born via surrogacy, home before shelling nears them. But when they land in Ireland, only the father will have any kind of legal guardianship over the child. And many Irish surrogacy couples who have rushed to Ukraine in recent weeks will have done so on their own time, taking annual leave because their fertility journey is not covered by Irish parental leave laws.
We’re still waiting on the 2017 Assisted Human Reproduction Bill changes, which will grant both parents equal rights to make legal decisions on a child born via surrogacy in Ireland, to be put before the Oireachtas, and a bill on international surrogacy is even further behind in joint committee stages.
Proposed changes to the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act that would grant reproductive leave for fertility treatment and pregnancy loss are still in the Seanad, on the third round of 11 before it might potentially become law. Currently, most women who experience a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks’ are forced to take the time off as sick leave.
Let’s not forget the constitutional crisis caused when Justice Minister McEntee decided to take the standard six months’ maternity leave, the first cabinet minister to do so in Irish history. It’s time for Government to catch up with industry.