Time has come for reproductive health care leave in the workplace

Ivana Bacik TD
24 May 2021

Several years ago, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) was approached by several of its members, outlining the negative impact on them due to a lack of statutory leave available for individual women recovering from the tragedy of early miscarriage; and the lack of leave available for those members seeking to access IVF and other reproductive health/fertility treatment. Their members reported having to take annual leave or sick leave to recover or to attend appointments.

Some women members reported returning to work immediately after experiencing an early miscarriage, because they had no entitlement to leave.

Having passed a motion on this issue at its national conference, representatives of the INTO, including Labour Party Councillor Alison Gilliland, approached me in 2019 to ask me to assist in introducing this measure into law.

On 2nd March 2021, I and my fellow Labour Senators published legislation to provide statutory leave to those suffering early miscarriage or needing time off for IVF treatment, by amending the Organisation of Working Time Act.

In late March 2021, the Labour Party of New Zealand passed legislation to provide for leave for employees who have suffered a miscarriage or still birth.

The debate around the Labour Bill has ignited a conversation about the need to face up to the complexity of fertility and reproductive health issues, and the need to provide practical recognition for the role that it plays in employees’ lives.

Since publication of the Bill, I and my Labour colleagues have been contacted by many women and couples who have suffered the grief and bereavement of early miscarriage, or who have gone through multiple cycles of IVF; and who have felt that there was nobody to whom they could turn within the workplace and no formal recognition for their grief.

Last Wednesday evening, we in Labour organised an Instagram Live event at which brave individuals including Sile Seoige the broadcaster spoke about their own personal experiences of suffering miscarriage; and we heard just how important it is that this experience be given recognition in our law.

What would the Labout Bill do if enacted?

  • It would provide women employees with up to 20 days leave for early miscarriage; and
  • Would give an entitlement to all employees of up to 10 days leave for access to reproductive healthcare treatment, such as IVF.
  • Labour Senators are working to secure cross-party support for the Bill.
  • Since introducing the Bill, we have also been contacted on a number of related issues, such as the need to introduce an opt-in scheme to provide recognition for still born babies who are lost in pregnancy before 24 weeks, or who weigh less than 500g.
  • Other issues raised include the need for greater understanding for women experiencing health difficulties due to menopause.
  • It will be possible to submit amendments to the Bill for the introduction of this measure, among others, if the Bill passes Second Stage on 24th May.
  • There is immense public support for this measure, and Labour Senators hope that the Government and Oireachtas colleagues generally will work with us to make it law as soon as possible.
  • It is anticipated that passing this simple Bill to provide for statutory leave will fulfil a secondary function of destigmatising pregnancy loss and fertility treatment in the workplace and in society – at present, too many people (women, in particular) suffer in silence because they do not believe that support is there for them.

Reproductive Health Context in Ireland:

  • Approximately 14,000 women in Ireland suffer a miscarriage each year.
    • In other words, more than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage here.
  • Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 couples or individuals in Ireland encounter difficulty conceiving.
  • The success rate for patients at a given IVF clinic in Ireland is approximately 25% for patients over 40.
  • The majority of clinics in Ireland list IVF at costing between €4,500 and €5,000 per cycle.

We hope that you and your colleagues will support this Bill passing through Second Stage tonight.

Thank you.

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