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Image / Editorial

The taboo around maternity leave is a major problem for parents

by Colette Sexton
02nd Apr 2019

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why the lack of clarity around maternity leave is a major problem for parents and those planning to have children.

Men in Ireland earned an average of €9,421 a year more than women in 2014, according to the most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office. However, new legislation means that employers will be forced to publish the mean and median hourly pay and bonuses of their male and female staff. The law will apply to employers with over 250 employees initially, but this will fall to 150 employees within three years and, ultimately, to employers with 50 or more employees.

A massive majority of Irish business women (89 per cent) believe that gender equality in the workplace will improve with the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting, according to a survey from finance advisor Duff & Phelps.

Related: Hit Me Up: I’m worried I’ll be permanently replaced while on maternity leave

The working world is moving towards gender equality slowly, but while initiatives such as pay gap reporting are to be welcomed, other problems remain. One of these is clarity around paid maternity leave. A lot of companies tend to be vague about their maternity leave policies, meaning that women often do not know what they will be entitled to until they are pregnant. For many, unfortunately, it is not a matter of simply asking.

Afraid to ask

Only a third of women were given information about maternity benefits when they started their current job, according to a survey of 1,000 working UK women by jobs and careers website Glassdoor.

Some 43 per cent said they would not ask about maternity benefits because they did not want their boss to think they were already pregnant. Over a third (37 per cent) said they felt they would be perceived as trying to get pregnant and 22 per cent said they would not ask because they thought it would put them at risk of redundancy.

Two in five of those surveyed said they would only ask their employer about what maternity benefits were offered if they were announcing a pregnancy.

Essentially, and understandably, women do not want to ask about maternity leave in case it damages their careers. This is a vicious circle, as because people do not ask about it, employers might think it is not a benefit that is valued by employees. Employers, please do not make such assumptions.  

Ireland is behind the trend when it comes to paid maternity leave.

Working women in Ireland are entitled to statutory maternity leave of 26 weeks’ maternity leave, together with 16 weeks’ additional unpaid maternity leave. If they have built up enough PRSI contributions, they will qualify for Maternity Benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which is worth €245 a week. That is not a lot of money with bills to pay and those bills mount up quickly with a new baby.

Irish employers tend not to give women “well-paid” maternity leave. A study by the Trades Union Congress in Britain of countries in Europe found that only Ireland and Slovakia fail to offer women well-paid maternity benefit, which is 66 per cent of normal earning or more.

Between the poor maternity pay in Ireland and the lack of information provided by employers, women who are planning to, or are already pregnant are left in a very difficult position.

Unless they have it in writing that their companies will provide paid maternity leave, women planning to have a baby need to save and budget accordingly. The brave few might ask upfront for the company’s policy, but many will not for fear of the impact this might have on their career. Employers need to step up here, and make clear their policies on maternity and paternity leave. If they do not pay for parental leave, they should consider introducing it. Treating your employees well will save money in the long term in terms of turnover, recruitment, and productivity.


  • Pregnancy, maternity leave and the fear…here
  • The intensely mixed emotions of returning to work after maternity leave…here
  • Baby on board? 100 essential tips for first-time parents (from mums who’ve been there)…here

Image: Dakota Corbin via Unsplash