Extending bereavement leave and pay in Northern Ireland

Extending bereavement leave and pay in Northern Ireland

By Olivia Carson, Public Affairs Officer

The CIPD in Northern Ireland are a key partner of the Coalition of Bereaved Workers which is campaigning to see bereavement leave and pay extended to all employees in Northern Ireland bereaved of a close relative or partner. 

At any time, around one in ten workers in the UK are estimated to be affected by a bereavement and it is likely that this number will have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there is no statutory entitlement for bereavement leave and pay, of any kind, in Northern Ireland which creates a severely uneven playing field. 

The lack of a statutory entitlement to bereavement leave means that many bereaved employees in Northern Ireland are forced to decide between returning to work too soon before they are ready, with Marie Curie research finding that over half, 54%, of employees in Northern Ireland who have been bereaved during the last year, saying that they couldn’t afford to stay off work so had to return before they were ready. Other employees are forced to take sick leave, and some employees even feel forced to consider leaving their jobs if their employer doesn’t offer them the support and space that they need following a bereavement. The National Bereavement Alliance found that 56% of employees would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide proper support if someone close to them died. 

Currently, the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill is making its way through the Northern Ireland Assembly. Passage of the Bill will see bereaved parents of children under eighteen in Northern Ireland granted statutory leave and pay. Similar provision, ‘Jack’s Law’, was introduced in Great Britain in 2020 but didn’t extend to Northern Ireland as Employment Law is devolved. And while passage of this bill is welcome and well-intentioned, we believe it will inadvertently create a hierarchy of bereavement – supporting a very narrow population of bereaved people and exclude the majority of others. 

The Coalition of Bereaved Workers brings together eight key partners, Marie Curie, Action Mental Health, Cruse Bereavement Care, Alzheimer’s Society, Carers NI, NIPSA and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as well as CIPD with the aim of aligning the entitlement currently being looked at for parents, two weeks of statutory bereavement leave and pay, extended to all employees who are bereaved of a close relative or partner.

 We believe that statutory provision of this kind would help to level the playing field for bereaved workers and ensure that those who are currently falling through the cracks are afforded sufficient and paid time off when they lose a close loved one. As a minimum, we envisage bereavement leave and pay entitlement being paid at the same level and under the same conditions as is proposed for parental bereavement leave and pay. However we also believe that this is an opportunity for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be much more ambitious than the Government at Westminster, and an area in which they could lead the way in being more progressive and offering a more comprehensive package of support for bereaved workers than that which exists in England, Scotland or Wales. 

Following the launch of the Coalition of Bereaved Workers at the end of June we have secured meetings with Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from the People Before Profit Alliance, Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party and have reached out to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The Coalition aims to see a commitment to bereavement leave and pay for all employees bereaved of a close relative or partner in all party manifestos as we head into an Assembly election in 2022.

The CIPD will also write our own election manifesto for the election, which will include this policy call amongst many others. If you would like to contribute some ideas to this, join our Policy Forum by emailing northernireland@cipd.co.uk.