Business groups welcome Clegg’s ‘flexible parental leave’ proposals

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Business and employers’ groups have welcomed proposals to overhaul the family-friendly leave system and enable women to share maternity leave with their partners in order to help working families.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg unveiled the plans, which follow the Government’s Consultation on Modern Workplaces, in a speech this morning. He also confirmed his intention to replace the existing “clapped out” arrangements, which he suggested make it difficult for women to work and contribute to the UK economy.

Under the proposals, from 2015, after the first two weeks of a mother’s maternity leave, the remaining 50 weeks can be shared between her and her partner. This leave can be taken in turns or at by both partners at the same time, and will run for a maximum of 12 months, nine of which will be at statutory pay.

This replaces the system that has been in place since April 2011, under which parents could share some leave, but this had to be taken in single blocks.

The rights will be offered to parents of adopted children as well as biological parents.

However, Clegg also confirmed that he has postponed plans to increase paternity leave, due to opposition from government colleagues and business, who had expressed concerns about its impact on an already fragile economy.

Clegg added that there would be a further review in 2018 that will look at the feasibility of extending paternity leave, as well as assessing the effectiveness of the measures announced today.

The announcement was met with a positive response from business groups and employers.

Petra Wilton, Chartered Management Institute director of policy and research, said: “This is a step in the right direction for modernising the UK’s workplaces. Flexible working can have huge benefits for employers and employees alike. Our research shows that people are both working harder and putting in longer hours since the recession.

“The reform of parental leave is also a welcome step. The twin problems of the gender pay gap and the under-representation of women at senior management levels remain major challenges for business. This change to the rules will enable real cultural change around parenting and women’s participation in the workforce, which offers real benefits for employers.”

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of work/life organisation Working Families, said: “Working Families has long campaigned for the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees, so this is great news. Many businesses already offer the right to all employees because it leads to performance gains. The Government’s own assessment shows the extension will bring a net benefit of £222.5 million to employers through increased productivity and through savings from reduced sickness, absenteeism and recruitment costs. Flexible working is an essential tool for business success.”

Meanwhile, Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Kevin Green suggested that the Government would be more successful in implementing the plans if it focused on communicating their benefits to employers rather than parents. He said: “In focusing his announcement on the benefits to working parents, Nick Clegg is approaching the issue of flexible working from the wrong angle.

“Businesses should consider more flexible working patterns for all their staff not because it’s seen as a benefit to workers but because there are solid, hard-headed business reasons for doing so. Our research found that employers can reduce absenteeism, improve staff morale and productivity, and are better able to attract and retain top talent if they adopt more flexible working arrangements.

Katja Hall, chief policy director at the CBI, also broadly welcomed the proposals but stressed that the system should be sufficiently straightforward in order for businesses to implement it. She said: “Flexible parental leave is a good way to support working families and businesses realise that this helps to retain talent. We must ensure that the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers.

“Companies support the right of all staff to request flexible working, but they must be able to decide each case on its merits, as it may not be practical for all firms.”

Peter Cheese, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development chief executive, said: “A shift in attitudes to flexible working is a natural reflection of the changing nature of work and the workforce. More flexibility extends the ability of employers to attract, retain and motivate a more diverse workforce, better reflective of the customer base they serve.

“Firms are increasingly finding that they can benefit from a higher level of loyalty, commitment and engagement from workers from a broad base of employees, not just working mothers, if they adopt a more universal approach to considering flexible working requests.

“The light-touch changes the Government is announcing won’t lead to an overnight change, or in our view unleash any huge latent demand. But we hope they will contribute to continuing cultural change, recognising a positive trend towards more flexible and diverse ways of working.”

For more detail and further resources relating to today’s announcement, visit XpertHR

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