Belfast Council is to give maternity leave provision to its workers who are mothers of premature babies.
In a first for the civil service here, councillors at City Hall voted to amend maternity leave provision for mothers of babies defined as premature, so that leave will not commence until the certified due date of the child.
It means any leave required from delivery date of a premature baby by parents will be considered compassionate leave and not reduce a council employee’s right to standard parental leave.
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At present all employees in the UK have a statutory right to 52 weeks maternity leave, but unfortunately maternity leave and pay cannot be extended if a baby is born prematurely. Workers may look at other options for taking more time off such as sick leave, annual leave, or unpaid leave.
The decision was made during the Belfast City Council Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Friday. DUP Councillor Gareth Spratt, who proposed the motion, told the chamber: "It's a motion close to my heart. I bring this as a husband and a father from a family that has experienced the trauma of the premature arrival of twin girls. In order to set the importance of the context of this issue, I rely upon my own family's experience.
"My wife's waters broke quite unexpectedly on a trip to the theatre at a gestation of only 23 weeks and five days. Our worst fears seemed inevitable. However, with the intervention of the health service, our girls did not arrive until a gestation of 27 weeks and one day.
"Desperately sick, the prognosis was bleak, and we were encouraged to have the girls baptised because their condition was unsurvivable. With what was accepted as a miracle by the medics they survived the night at the Royal Nicu unit, began three and a half weeks at the Royal, and a further seven weeks at the Ulster Hospital.
"73 days in hospital, and 73 days from my wife's maternity leave. That's 73 days from your chance to bond as a family, and do all the things that new families do. It's a very difficult time, there's very little contact, and obviously a strict hygiene policy. With frequent medical interventions, it is a difficult period."
He added: "I believe the council will benefit from being a supportive employer of staff. I believe it is a positive policy. It is similar to a bill currently making its way through parliament, the Neo-Natal Care Leave and Pay bill. That may not apply to here, due to the 1996 Employment Act. As a council we should carry this forward and lead the way with this policy."
Nora Largey, City Solicitor, told the chamber the committee was asked to agree the motion "in principle" pending a report by council officers looking at "financial and other implications."
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