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Green Paper: Work and Parents


Proposals to give more help to new parents and greater support to the businesses employing them were announced yesterday by Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers.

He published the “Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice” Green Paper which follows a review of work and parents undertaken by the Government.

The Green Paper sets out a range of options for consultation over the next three months. Everyone will be able to state their priorities and preferences before the Government decides which proposals to take forward. Options in the Green Paper include:

  • two weeks paid paternity leave for fathers;
  • lengthening the period maternity leave is paid to six months;
  • extending unpaid maternity leave so a woman could stay at home for a year;
  • sharing any increase on existing unpaid maternity leave equally between the mother and father;
  • increasing the flat rate of maternity pay – currently £60.20 per week;
  • allowing an adoptive parent – either male or female – to take paid leave similar to maternity leave when adopting a child; and
  • increasing the amount of parental leave available to the parents of disabled children, currently 13 weeks.

The Green Paper also includes several options on flexible working either through legislation or incentives to business including:

  • Giving mothers who return early from maternity leave the right to work reduced hours for the rest of that time;
  • giving fathers the right to work reduced hours until the end of maternity leave;
  • allowing both parents the right to opt to work reduced hours for as long as they wish, when the maternity leave period ends;
  • giving all employers the right to refuse a request to work reduced hours if it would harm the business; and
  • exempting employers with a certain number of employees from granting any requests to work reduced hours, except for mothers for a short time;
  • a kitemark that organisations committed to an appropriate code might display with a mechanism for taking the kitemark away if opportunities for flexible working are removed. This would be backed up with a challenge fund for small businesses to meet some of the up front costs of providing more flexible working opportunities.

Mr Byers said:

“Working patterns have changed dramatically over the last 25 years. But help for working parents has largely gone unchanged. Too many parents are struggling under the heavy demands of coping with children and trying to hold down a job.

“I am convinced that we need to do more to help them. Simply doing nothing is not an option.

“As standards of living improve, quality of life becomes an issue for us all.

“I don’t want mothers to drop out of the labour market because they feel they don’t have enough support or flexibility. We need to retain their valuable skills and experience.

“We also need to answer the calls from fathers who can’t afford to take time off to be with their new baby.

“But the concerns of business cannot be ignored, particularly the small firms which energise our economy. Our proposals take these concerns into account. They will also provide more help for business partly by simplifying existing legislation, by providing more targeted support and better advice and guidance. “I don’t believe we need to make a choice between either helping families or helping businesses. The right policies will not only support parents but also enable business to recruit and retain skilled staff thereby increasing productivity and helping the UK to remain competitive.

“It’s not possible to take away all the strains from being a busy working parent but we do need a much more flexible culture. We need to know what working parents and employers would find most useful so that we can create a better balance.

“A society where being a good parent and good employee are not in conflict is a prize for us all and one which I believe we can achieve.

“This is a real step along the path towards achieving a fair and lasting deal for parents working in a modern society.”

Minster for Women, Margaret Jay, said:

“It is vital that people can fulfil their potential both as employees and parents. By consulting and therefore getting the measures we introduce right, we will benefit everyone – families and business alike. Women now make up almost half of the workforce, so maintaining their attachment to the labour market is crucial to the economic success of our country.

“Employers are increasingly realising the competitive edge to be gained from offering flexible work packages – savings of millions in recruitment and retention, increased loyalty and reduction of sickness and absenteeism. This is a package for families and strong family life and it is a package for successful business.”

The Government has also listened to calls from business for greater support and believes that the existing rules on maternity rights can be radically simplified. Other measures being proposed include:

  • more SMEs to qualify for compensation for the money they pay out in maternity pay;
  • encouraging small employers to make use of their right to seek maternity payments in advance from the Inland Revenue, thereby aiding cash flow problems;
  • the Employment Service and private recruitment agencies working with employers from an earlier stage to help with managing absences; and
  • better guidance and advice for employers including through the internet and packs to help employers and employees draw up a maternity leave contract.

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