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New Maternity Rules announced by Byers


Moves to help working mothers and to ease the administrative burden of maternity leave on businesses were announced by Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers yesterday.

He unveiled a three-part package of measures comprising:

  • Unpaid maternity leave being extended by three months, enabling mothers to take up to a year off work;
  • A new, simplified framework of maternity pay and leave regulations for both employers and employees; and
  • The launch of a new website for working mums to help them get information about what they are entitled to.

Extending unpaid maternity leave will mean that a woman can stay at home for one year in total. It was one of the top priorities for change in the recent Green Paper consultation on work and parents.

The change will allow mothers to spend more time with their new baby and organise childcare for their return to work.

The new framework of rules published today sets out changes to the notification periods and removes confusion about qualification criteria to make it far easier for employers to plan for and manage absences.

Expectant mothers will have to give their employers greater notice of when they intend to start and return from their maternity leave. The notice period is being increased from three to four weeks.

A new interactive website – (no, I don’t understand why they picked that name!) – will give working mothers tailored information on their maternity leave and pay entitlements at the touch of a button. Many women are confused about their maternity rights and often don’t know how or where to get help and guidance. The website will help women work out what leave and pay they qualify for and will contain an interactive calendar to make planning their leave easier.

Stephen Byers said, “With more women in work it is vital to put in place measures that allow working mothers to combine being a good parent with holding down a job.

“The right to take a year’s maternity leave will make a real difference to a child’s first year of life. Mothers want to be able to spend more time with their new baby and a longer period of leave helps them to be better prepared when they do come back to work.

“Evidence shows that women with longer periods of maternity leave are more likely to return to work. Currently, a third of new mothers do not return to work. If only 10% of those were to return as a result of an increase in maternity leave, then employers could save up to £35 million each year in recruitment costs alone.

“Employers have told us that the system of maternity rules which has evolved over the years needs to be radically altered. We agree and we are taking action now. “We have come up with a dramatically simplified framework which will deliver clarity, certainty and improved planning time for employers and employees.”

Margaret Jay, Minister for Women, said, “We have always been clear that we want to support mums in the choices they make at this important time of their lives. Giving women up to a year’s maternity leave means they can do the best for their babies and the best for themselves. The new website will be an invaluable source of guidance to help women plan their leave on the basis of accurate, reliable information.”

Yesterday’s announcement builds on changes in the Budget including:

  • an increase in the flat rate of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance from its present £60.20 a week to £75 a week from April 2002 and £100 from April 2003. Women will receive 90 per cent of their previous earnings if that is less than the flat rate;
  • an extension of the period of maternity pay at this enhanced rate from 18 weeks to 26 weeks from April 2003;
  • the right to two weeks of paid paternity leave for working fathers from 2003, paid at the same flat rate as SMP; and
  • allowing more small businesses to claim extra compensation for administering maternity pay, by doubling the threshold for Small Employer Relief to £40,000 from April 2002. Around 60 per cent of all firms paying SMP each year will be able to reclaim their costs in full, plus compensation.

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