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CBI expresses disappointment with government plans for maternity regulations

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The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) will today (Friday) criticise a government plan for reducing the business burden of maternity regulations, saying ministers have not gone far enough.

It will publish its submission to a government consultation on the administration of new laws on the employment of working parents.

The submission points out that simplification of administrative rules was meant to compensate partially for implementation of new legislation by making it easier to plan for absence.

It says business will work hard to accommodate rules governing two-weeks paternity leave and 13 weeks parental leave. But it describes proposals on maternity leave as “a major disappointment”.

The CBI believes firms need at least six weeks’ notice of when new mothers will return to work. But ministers propose to extend the current three-week notice period to just four weeks.

Digby Jones, Director-General, said: “The government seems determined to deliver to parents but is less willing to deliver for business, the job creators in our society. The original green paper was entitled ‘competitiveness and choice’, but so far competitiveness is working hard to come second.”

Adding to CBI concerns is a proposal to prevent companies contacting employees before the end of their maternity leave. At present firms can contact staff three weeks before the end of their time off to confirm the return date.

Digby Jones said: “Businesses, especially smaller ones, need to plan ahead. It is a fact of life that many people tell employers they plan to return to work just to keep their options open. Is it really unreasonable for a firm to clarify an employee’s intentions before the return date?”

He added that it is good practice to keep in touch with staff during an extended absence to keep them informed about changes at work. “Women should not be contacted unnecessarily, but some communication can benefit employers and employees,” he said.

The CBI rejects a proposal that employers must inform women of all their individual rights within a week of hearing of a pregnancy. It says three weeks would be more realistic. Even large firms with big personnel departments say a week would be insufficient to confirm details of all entitlements. Small firms say the current proposal is “simply unachievable”.

The CBI also presses the government to accept the full cost of both paying and administering the two-week paternity pay that comes in from 2003. It criticises government regulatory impact assessments for “making no serious attempt to quantify consequences for small firms”.

Digby Jones said: “This is about the day-to-day practical implications of the many changes on those who will have to make them work. I hope ministers listen to our concerns and take action to help. In a worrying time for employment, we want to encourage businesses to take people on, not to throw in the towel because it is frankly getting too difficult.”


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