Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry has welcomed the passage into law of the Work and Families Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.
The new law will mean that parents of children due to be born, or placed for adoption, on or after April 5 who meet qualifying conditions will be able to access shared parental leave and pay in their child’s first year.
Dr Farry said: “This important package of new rights will allow eligible working families to have more choice about how they balance their work and caring commitments.
“Parents can choose to be at home together or to work at different times and share the care of their child during the critical first year.
“The measures are a proactive response to changing expectations around work and family life. It is right that we do more to support the role of fathers and partners who want to contribute more to the care of their children.
“It is also important to challenge assumptions that only women will ever be absent from the workplace for caring reasons. Addressing these points will have long term benefits for all parents, irrespective of gender.”
These new rights will give families greater choice over how they arrange childcare during this very important time, by allowing working mothers the option to end their maternity pay and leave early, and to share untaken leave and pay with their partner.
Adopters will similarly be able to bring their adoption leave and pay to an early end to opt into shared parental leave and pay with their partner.
Key elements of the new law include:
* Employed mothers will continue to be entitled to 52 weeks of Maternity Leave and 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
* If they choose to do so, an eligible mother can end her maternity leave early and, with her partner or the child’s father, opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. If they both meet the qualifying requirements, they will need to decide how they want to divide their Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement.
* Adopters will have the same rights as other parents to Shared Parental Leave and Pay.
* Paid Paternity Leave of two weeks will continue to be available to fathers and a mother’s or adopter’s partner; however * Additional Paternity Leave will be removed (Shared Parental Leave will replace it).
* Fathers and partners will also be entitled to time off for antenatal appointments.
Various changes to adoption leave and pay are also introduced as follows:
* Statutory Adoption Pay is brought into line with statutory maternity pay by setting it at 90% of normal earnings for the first six weeks;
* the right is introduced for prospective adoptive parents to take time off before the adoption to have contact with the child and professionals making arrangements for the adoption; and
* entitlement to adoption leave and pay is introduced for parents in surrogacy arrangements.
Speaking about the benefits of the new law to employers, Mr Farry said: “By reducing the need for employees to make stark choices between work and family commitments, the new rights should improve employers’ ability to retain their best people. By working with their employees to develop practical plans for sharing leave and pay with a partner, employers may also see key workers being absent for shorter periods of time as shared childcare becomes more commonplace.”
The package of new rights also includes the extension to all qualifying employees of the right to request flexible working.
Further information on the new law for parents can be found at: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/spl-and-pay and further information for employers can be found at:http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/shared-parental-leave-and-pay.