The issue of equality of treatment in the workplace is one that the EU has placed a great deal of weight on, and is now seeking to encourage through amended legislation. The EU is proposing to bring in a new Directive [1] on work-life balance for parents and carers (the “proposed Directive”), which would also repeal the current Directive [2] on parental leave.

The proposed Directive states that fathers would have the right to paid paternity leave for a ten day period around the birth of the child. It also outlines broader rights in terms of parental leave which would also be paid, and suggests that two months of that parental leave cannot be transferred to the other partner. Finally, the proposed Directive also suggests a right to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes.

It is clear that the legislation is being introduced in an attempt to tackle gender inequality. The proposal outlines that, “Work-life balance policies should contribute to the achievement of gender equality by promoting the participation of women in the labour market, the equal sharing of care responsibilities between men and women, and closing gender pay gaps in earnings and pay.” It is clear that one of the aims is to effect a social and cultural shift away from women being the sole care givers by incentivising males to take time off, and hence encouraging equality in the workplace.

Meanwhile there has also been a proposal in Ireland, through a private member’s bill, to change the current parental leave entitlements which are outlined in the Parental Leave Acts 1998 and 2006. The result of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill would be an increase in the leave entitlement for parents – so parents would be entitled to take up to 26 working weeks of parental pay per child up to the age of 12 years old rather than the current 18 working weeks per child aged up to 8 years old. Unlike the EU’s suggestion though, this would still be unpaid.

The proposal of these pieces of legislation at both EU and national level is particularly interesting when taken in the Irish context. While the EU is attempting to remove barriers to the workplace for women with the proposed Directive, Ireland will also be looking to do so in a variety of ways. This will not only be through the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill and potential gender pay gap reporting but also by considering the question of whether to remove reference to the woman’s place being in the home, which is currently enshrined in the Constitution, this coming October.