May 25 2013 Latest news:
Ed Foss, Senior writer
Monday, May 16, 2011
Reforms to parents’ workplace rights after their children are born will provide much more choice for families, the government said today.
Launching a 12-week consultation into plans to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave from 2015 as part of wider plans to modernise the workplace, officials said current regulations were too rigid, reflected outdated notions of parenting and restricted employers.
Business leaders however have criticised the plans, at least in part, saying they were concerned by proposals to increase the total period of parental leave by another four weeks, as the UK already offers some of the most generous provisions in the world.
Under the proposals, once the early weeks of maternity and paternity leave have ended, parents will be able to share the overall leave allowance between them.
Unlike the current system this leave could be taken in a number of different blocks and both parents could take leave at the same time.
Employers would have the ability to ensure that the leave must be taken in one continuous period if agreement cannot be reached.
They would be able to ask staff to return for short periods to meet peaks in demand or to require that leave is taken in one continuous block, depending on business needs.
Speaking about the ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation, business secretary Vince Cable said: “Our proposals will encourage greater choice by giving employees and their employers the flexibility to find arrangements to suit them both.
“New parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves, rather than being dictated to by rigid government regulation as is currently the case.
“And employers should be encouraged to come to agreement with employees on how work and family responsibilities can be met simultaneously.
“These measures are fairer for fathers and maintain the existing entitlements for mothers – but crucially give parents much greater choice over how to balance their work and family commitments.”
The consultation includes proposals such as 18 weeks maternity leave and pay in one continuous block around birth; four weeks of parental leave and pay exclusive to each parent to be taken in the first year; and 30 weeks of additional parental leave available to either parent, of which 17 weeks would be paid and can be broken in blocks between parents.
In addition, employment tribunals that have found an employer to have discriminated on gender in relation to pay, can order the employer to conduct a pay audit and publish their results.
But Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: “The absolute priority for the country today is to grow businesses and create jobs. This is how we will judge the merits of these proposals as we consult with companies.
“Employees and employers often informally agree working patterns that suit both parties and the government is right to look at ways of encouraging this by removing unnecessary bureaucracy.
“Parental leave should be open to both parents, be simple to administer and allow employers to reject complex patterns of leave.
“We are concerned by proposals to increase the total period of parental leave by another four weeks, given the UK already offers some of the most generous provisions in the world.
“Employment tribunals were designed to settle disputes between individuals and employers, so a proposal to allow them to order equal pay audits across an entire firm is disproportionate and risks introducing class actions by the back door.
“An equal pay audit is a blunt instrument which often fails to address the complex causes of the gender pay gap.”
The new system would see total leave in year one between parents increased from 54 to 58 weeks.