Legislation ‘not responsible’ for female progress at work

Female progress in the workplace has not been brought about by changes to employment legislation, claimed director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) David Frost today.

Speaking at a debate on the future of the UK’s workforce, co-hosted by the BCC and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frost explained that the BCC does not see the need for “relentless change” on legislation surrounding parental leave.

Frost argued: “The most dramatic change in my working life is unquestionably the changing role of women in work. I would question whether the progress women have made in the workplace – and many are now outstripping men in terms of their capability, performance and focus – has been down to legislation or whether it’s actually down to [female progress in] education.”

However, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called the claim “astonishing”, adding that what is set out in legislation makes a “huge difference” to what employers do.

“To suggest, as David did, that it wasn’t legislation that changed women’s experience of work is an astonishing suggestion to make,” Barber responded. “In any number of ways that you look at the world of work, we would have much lower standards if we hadn’t had legislation that actually put some bottom lines in place.”

The debate brought together representatives from the TUC, the BCC and Unite to discuss the business issues surrounding the Government’s proposals to create a new system of shared parental leave and to introduce a universal right to request flexible working.

The Government is currently carrying out a consultation on whether or not to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. Proposals to create a more flexible system for parental leave are also being examined.

In April 2011, new fathers were given the right to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave within the first year of the child’s life if the mother returned to work.

For more information on current paternity rights, view XpertHR’s employer guide to paternity and adoption legislation.

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