Firms attack plan to let parents work part time

Employers have dismissed proposals outlined by the
Government last week to offer all parents the option of part-time working.

Ministers suggest in a Green Paper that both parents should
have the right to work reduced hours for as long as they wish when the
maternity period ends.

The Green Paper is the Government’s bid to bring rights for
working parents up to date. It follows a major review of work and parents this
year.

The CBI’s deputy director-general, John Cridland, claimed
that the proposals on part-time working were unworkable and warned they would
lead to “more people going to tribunals to thrash out what they can and cannot
do”.

His comments echo the concerns businesses have over this key
element of the Green Paper. In the sectors where employees work long hours,
legal firms, banks and consultancies were united in their rejection of these
proposals.

Nomura International’s HR director, Ian Davidson, said
allowing staff to go part-time would have a big impact. He said: “This is
uncharted territory and we would have to think carefully how to respond to an
employee wanting to work part-time.” 

The Government is proposing a “harm test” in the Green
Paper, which would permit employers the right to refuse a request to work
reduced hours if it would harm the business. Trade and Industry Secretary
Stephen Byers was unwilling to comment on its format, saying that was part of
the consultation. “Whether it survives, who knows?” he said.

The Green Paper suggests that there will be significant cost
implications for employers. But Byers was unrepentant. He said: “The right
policies will not only support parents but also enable business to recruit and
retain skilled staff, thereby increasing productivity.”

A cautious welcome to the proposals was given by Arthur
Andersen partner and head of the human capital services practice Michael
Stanley. “Although the long-term implications are expensive, it all comes down
to market demand and the war for talent,” he said.

The deadline for comments on the consultation paper, Work
and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice, ends on 7 March.

 

Main proposals from Green Paper

·       
Two weeks’ paid paternity leave for fathers

·       
Any increase on existing unpaid maternity leave will be
shared equally between the mother and father

·       
The flat rate of maternity pay – currently £60.20 per
week – will be increased

·       
Fathers will have the right to work reduced hours until
the end of maternity leave

·       
Both parents will be able to opt to work reduced hours
for as long as they wish, when the maternity period ends

By Kathy Watson

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