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Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs


-Term Time Working - a Family Friendly Measure

Arising from a Government Decision in 1997 in relation to the introduction of a range of new work attendance patterns in the public sector, "Term Time" working was to be piloted in an appropriate public service organisation. Term Time leave is unpaid leave which is intended primarily as an additional facility to assist staff with young children to combine work and family responsibilities by enabling them to take up to 3 months (10 or 13 weeks) leave during the school summer holiday period. The scheme is also available to employees who wish to avail of Term Time to provide care for incapacitated relatives aged over
18 years.

In response to a request from the Department of Finance, the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs volunteered to operate Term Time leave, on a pilot basis, in 1998. The scheme was designed by the Department, in consultation with the Unions and the Department of Finance, and the option was made available to about 1000 of the Department's staff in selected areas outside of Dublin.

-Take Up

A review of the first pilot was undertaken whcih incorporated the views of departmental management, the Trade unions, staff who had participated and those who had not. The take-up for the first pilot was very low, just 18 staff applied and this was attributed in part, to the short notice provided to staff of the introduction of the pilot. Another significant reason for the low take-up identified in the review of the initial pilot was that those wishing to avail of the scheme would have no income while on Term Time.

-Outcomes and Problems

It was decided to pilot the scheme again in Summer 1999, this time in four Departments, and in order to address the income issue, participants were given the option of having their annual basic salary spread in equal amounts over a 12 month period commencing in April, 1999. This administrative facility has enhanced the Term Time scheme for employees in all grades and this facility, together with providing sufficient notice of the operation of the pilot in 1999 met the need for advance planning of the family budget which is necessary for most people wishing to avail of three months leave without pay. In the light of these improvements, the second pilot proved to be much more successful and in 1999, 146 employees ( 16 male and 130 female) participated in the scheme.

Vacancies arising from Term Time absences are filled in the case of staff above clerical level by the granting of higher duty allowances, usually within the area or section, and by the
recruitment of temporary staff at clerical level. Overlaps for training purposes have been identified as a fundamental feature for the successful operation of the scheme.

Because of the geographical spread of the Department and indeed of civil service offices generally, the recruitment of temporary staff proved to be one of the significant issues for local management in the operation of the scheme. This aspect was so critical to the success of Term Time that a third pilot was run in Summer 2000 and on this occasion 186 employees (15 male and 171 female) availed of the option.

As with all flexible working arrangements, the ability of the Department to deliver its services to the public is a key consideration as regards the number of staff to be facilitated with Term Time leave in any area or section. Because of the business needs of the organisation and the increasing demand for Term Time, not all applicants can be facilitated each year. So, some staff are inevitably disappointed when their applications cannot be approved. Nonetheless, the number of applications refused was relatively low - 10 in 1999 and 19 in 2000.

Based on experiences over the past 3 years, it is clear that despite the administrative effort involved, Term Time can be successfully operated provided that managers have sufficient flexibility to recruit temporary staff in the manner best suited to local circumstances and that the temporary staff and those on higher duty allowances are in place in sufficient time to receive the required training to effectively undertake the work of those availing of Term Time.

Arrangements are now under way for Summer Term Time 2001. Effectively, the annual arrangements are now well established, with the next review due at the end of Summer 2003.