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Parental bereavement: Laws in NI will change, says Diane Dodds

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

image copyrightLiudmila_Fadzeyeva

Laws that will allow parents in Northern Ireland to take paid time off after losing a child will be passed as soon as possible, Stormont's economy minister has said.

Last month, Westminster brought in new rules so parents get bereavement leave up to two weeks if they lose a child.

However, it does not apply in Northern Ireland.

Diane Dodds said it was "sensible and compassionate" to bring NI's laws in line with Great Britain.

In 2018, MPs voted to support a bill known as Jack's Law that will take effect in England, Scotland and Wales this April.

It means parents who lose a child under the age of 18 will be able to take paid leave as either a single block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each across the first year after the death.

Under the rules, people who have been employed for at least 26 weeks will be entitled to a minimum payment of up to £148 a week during their bereavement leave, depending on the level of their salary.

Employment law is devolved and any changes in Northern Ireland will need legislation to be approved by the assembly.

On Wednesday, Mrs Dodds told the economy committee she was asking her officials to start exploring ways to rapidly change the law in Northern Ireland.

"I actually didn't believe we don't have provision for parents who have had a child bereavement, it seems like in a progressive, modern democracy it is the sensible and compassionate thing to do," she told assembly members (MLAs).

Case study: 'It was an awful road'

media captionJulie Flaherty talks about her son Jake's death when he was just two years old in 2013.

Jake Flaherty died when he was just two years old in 2013, from a congenital heart defect.

His mum Julie, who lives in Portadown, said her husband Wayne's employer was very good about allowing him time off after their loss - but that "bills still needed paid".

She said bringing the laws in Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain would make a big difference for families in a similar situation.

image copyrightJulie Flaherty
image captionJulie Flaherty with her husband and son Jake

"It would have meant my husband and I had that fortnight just to be with each other and not have to worry about the realities of what was ahead.

"It was an awful and unexplained road - two weeks' grace could be worth months in someone's own mind.

"I don't want to see a delay here - the quicker you move on this the better."

Mrs Dodds added that she hoped the level of paid leave parents in Northern Ireland will get would "at least match" what is being offered in the rest of the UK.

Official figures show that in 2018, there were 79 stillbirths and 97 infant deaths registered in Northern Ireland.

The Department for the Economy has said it cannot give a timescale as to when the legislation could be brought to the assembly.

A public consultation will need to be carried out first.

Bereavement leave and NI law

As the law currently stands, there is no automatic right to paid time off for the bereavement of a child - but parents of stillborn children are entitled to maternity and paternity leave.

  • Anyone classed as an employee has the right to time off for a "dependant"
  • This time off is for dealing with unexpected issues and emergencies involving the dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral
  • The law does not say how much time off can be taken. It simply says the amount should be "reasonable"
  • Employers can treat time off for bereavement as sick leave or holiday leave, depending on their workplace policy and the individual circumstances
  • If the employee takes the time off as sick leave or holiday leave, their normal sick or holiday pay will apply.

Source: NI Direct

Related Topics

  • Diane Dodds
  • Northern Ireland Assembly

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