NIPSA is the largest trade union in Northern Ireland representing over 41,500 members employed across the whole of the public services in organisations such as the Northern Ireland Civil Service and its Agencies, Local Government, Education Authority, the Health Trusts, the NI Housing Executive as well as a host of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs). NIPSA also represents a significant number of members in the Voluntary Sector.

In paragraph 4 of the Foreword it states that the provisions will “at least match" (our emphasis) the parental bereavement legislation which came into effect across the rest of the United Kingdom on 6 April 2020”. We believe the proposed legislative framework for Northern Ireland must deliver, as a minimum, the provisions applicable in the United Kingdom (UK). We also believe this consultation provides us with a unique opportunity in Northern Ireland to ensure the most generous parental bereavement leave and pay provisions apply to Northern Ireland and go beyond the new UK statutory provision.

As employment law is a devolved matter we would expect the Northern Ireland Executive to show a commitment to developing and maintaining an employment rights system that is consistent with best practice and enhances Northern Ireland’s reputation and competitiveness in a global economy. In the UK a number of private and public sector organisations go above and beyond the new statutory provision by offering this leave at full pay. Several, including Rolls-Royce and the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue do not have a qualifying period for the entitlement to kick in, unlike the 26 weeks’ service required by the UK law.

The starting point for this consultation must be that the death of a child is a tragedy which is likely to cast a shadow over a parent for the rest of their life and that the period immediately after a bereavement is a time when a bereaved parent may be in shock, may have practical considerations to attend to such as coroner’s inquests and funeral arrangements, and is likely to need time to grieve without having to worry about their job security or their income.

However, it should also be noted that there is no set pattern for grief and that some people who suffer a bereavement choose to go back to work at the earliest opportunity as they need the company of their colleagues and the comfort of a routine and keeping busy. Grief and depression can strike at a later date, when someone is least expecting it. By its very nature, it is difficult to legislate for a grieving period when there is no set pattern and the person affected cannot predict how they will feel from one day to the next. We therefore believe employers should take as flexible and compassionate an approach as possible.

We believe the consultation is limited in that it does not consider flexible working. We would expect that employers should in addition be required to consider temporary changes to employment arrangements such as flexible working/reasonable adjustments if requested by the employee.

We therefore believe the Northern Ireland Executive have a responsibility and an opportunity now, if they are really serious about supporting employees in Northern Ireland who experience such a tragic loss, to lead the way and send a clear message to unsupportive employers who fail to display even a basic level of compassion and support to employees faced with such personal tragedy, that this is unacceptable and their reputation and competitiveness in the local and global economy will be undermined.

NIPSA welcomes the opportunity to respond and our views are set out in our full consultation document available to download from the link below.