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NWCI writes to Equality Commission on exclusion of women returning from maternity leave from TWSS

Published: Thursday, May 14, 2020

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) today wrote to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), regarding the exclusion of women returning from maternity leave from the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS), and the Minister for Finance’s refusal to rectify the issue.

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI said,

“This is an urgent matter that NWCI, alongside SIPTU and ICTU, have been highlighting for the last number of weeks, and it is an issue that is arising at NWCI’s free employment law advice clinics. Women upon returning from maternity leave are discovering that they are excluded from the benefits of the Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Schheme as, although they were employees, they did not receive normal pay during January and February 2020. This discrepancy impacts most acutely on low paid women workers whose employers do not top up Maternity Benefit, and who have been reliant on statutory Maternity Benefit for the duration of their maternity leave, expecting to return to work on full pay. The reality of this is that women returning from maternity leave are being pushed out of the workforce. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has written to NWCI to confirm that his approach to the matter will not be changing.”

Orla O’Connor said,

“Women on maternity leave have a heightened level of protection and therefore cannot be placed in the same category as employees, for example, who commenced a new employment after that date, or returned to the payroll of his or her employer after that date following a period of unpaid leave. However, this is the argument that the Minister has put forth. We believe that this approach is not in compliance with the Maternity Protection Act 1994 which provides that women on maternity leave are entitled to be treated as if they had been at work during their maternity leave.”

“We also consider that this approach is not in line with the requirements of the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty. The Duty places a statutory obligation on public bodies to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect the human rights of those to whom they provide services and staff when carrying out their daily work. We do not believe that the Department of Finance was acting in accordance with their obligations under this duty when they formed this policy.”

Orla O’Connor concluded,

“This is an issue which NWCI has raised, alongside the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and SIPTU. This matter is particularly relevant to IHREC given their role in reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in Ireland from an equality and rights perspective and in assisting public bodies to uphold the Public Sector Duty. Women in this situation need to see this issue resolved as a matter of urgency.”

Link to full letter from NWCI to IHREC here: https://www.nwci.ie/learn/publication/nwci_writes_to_ihrec_women_returning_from_maternity_leave_excluded_from_tem


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