Councillor Harkin said: “Councillor Ferguson recently brought forward an excellent motion that supported parental bereavement pay and leave and we should all welcome the fact that this discussion is now happening in Stormont .
“Hopefully we will soon have statutory leave that allows people at least two weeks to grieve the loss of a child which is devastating and that people during that time shouldn’t be thinking about bills and they shouldn’t be worried about jobs.
“They should be able to focus on beginning grieving and dealing with all the practical things you have to deal with and as a council we welcome that and hope that comes to fruition as soon as possible.
“As people may have seen the Coalition for Bereaved Workers has been formed and its a wide network of charity organisations, trade unions, mental health organisations all calling for the same thing.
“They are asking for the legislation to be extended to include anyone who is a partner or a close relative. I think this would be the right thing to do.
“People who are thrust into this situation are more often forced to take unpaid leave and sometimes it makes things very difficult for them in terms of their job, bills and everything else.
“There should be at least two weeks statutory leave and pay for people who lose a close relative or partner. Our employment laws need updating and this is one aspect of it that has taken too long.
“I know the Coalition for Bereaved Workers are hoping if this motion passes that it can be sent out and circulated to all the councils across the North and they are hoping that the Stormont Economy Committee that is working on the legislation can look at this and work this in so it can be extended to cover more people.”
Supporting the motion, SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly, who works for the Alzheimer’s Society, one of the charities involved with the coalition said: “We know from the research Marie Curie has done on this issue that around 1 in 7 employees in Northern Ireland find themselves in the position where they are unhappy with the bereavement law in relation to the experiences they have had with their employer.
“We recognise that there are many good employers who do treat their employees with compassion at a time of bereavement but unfortunately that is not universal and that’s why this legislation is required.
“We also recognise the legislation that is going through the Assembly in its current form will deal with those who had a bereavement and the child was under the age of 18 which meant that people who died who were over the age of 18 were not covered.
“We know from the NI Statistics Research Agency that around 1% of those that die are under the age of 20 so 99% of the people who die in Northern Ireland aren’t covered by the legislation that is currently going through and that’s why the coalition feels that this is a missed opportunity to deal with some other bereavement circumstances that affect people in terms of their employment.
“The coalition is also campaigning for this to be a ‘day one right’ which means an employee would get these provisions as soon as they start working for an employer rather than having to gain those entitlements over a period of time. I would encourage everyone to support this motion.”
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock agreed that consideration should be given to extending the legislation adding: “We are a very compassionate council and I think we can look at our own policies and see how we could establish a two week statutory bereavement leave.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Sandra Duff agreed saying: “I do think it is right that we, as a council, look at our own policies and see what we can do to support people when they are going through the worst time of their life.
“Speaking personally as a manager who has been responsible for staff who have been bereaved and going through a very difficult time it was always something that was left to my discretion in terms of time off to be able to grieve properly. Unfortunately that isn’t the case in all workplaces.”
Although agreeing with and supporting the motion, UUP Alderman Ryan McCready felt there was ‘still a lot of work that needs to be done on this’.
Summing up, Councillor Harkin said: “This is about creating a more caring society. You just think about how people have struggled and coped with Covid and the pandemic over the last year and a half.
“People have had to deal with bereavement on top of everything else, it must have been so difficult and for people not to be able to know that they have the safety net of a couple of weeks off to deal with the practical things and to grieve and that’s why this legislation needs to be changed.”
The motion passed unanimously.
Local Democracy Reporter
Gillian Anderson , Local Democracy Reporting Service