Flexible parental rights should be extended to parents of children who are aged 18 and under, said a Tory peer who has introduced a private bill on equality issues into Parliament.
Currently only parents and carers who have children aged six or under have the right to request flexible working though the government plans to raise the age limit to 16.
Baroness Morris of Bolton included the proposal in her Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill which had its second reading in the House of Lords last week. The Bill also calls for employers that pay women less for the same work as men to be forced to carry out equal pay audits.
Speaking in the Lords, Baroness Morris said it would be wrong to increase the amount of red tape employers have to deal with, and insisted her Bill “is not an extra regulation”.
“Many companies operate flexible working practices already withy enormous success. And many companies strive to treat all of their employees fairly, and according to their talent and experience rather than their gender. This Bill, therefore, imposes no extra burden on them.
“But pay inequality is not acceptable whatever the economic times. We must ensure a culture of equality and fairness in the workplace to motivate women who will play a crucial part as the economy recovers.”
Baroness Morris also wants to make it harder for employers who use the “material defence” to justify paying a woman less. This is used to prove that sex has nothing to do with a female worker being paid less than a male counterpart for the same work.
She wants a “reasonable test” to be applied to identify indirect pay discrimination. For example, said the baroness, employers can say it’s reasonable to pay a woman in Manchester less than a man doing the equivalent job in Leeds without having to prove that the cost of living in Leeds is more expensive than in Manchester.
Former union chief Lord (Bill) Morris backed the Bill, saying it was “straightforward, succinct and necessary.”
However as this is a private bill sponsored by the Conservatives it is unlikely to become law.
Employment lawyer Matthew Clayton of Rickerbys commented: “It [the Bill] does serve to promote discussion on a couple of key issues. Firstly is there any logic in the government’s current proposal that the right to make flexible working requests should be extended to parents of 16-year olds but not 18-year olds? Limiting the new right in this way does not sit happily with the government’s policy of promoting good parenting and encouraging young people to stay in education and training for longer.
“Secondly should tougher laws be introduced to deter discriminatory pay practices? That is undoubtedly a worthy aim but I’m not sure this Bill would have the desired effect. Most pay differences between men and women are caused by unconscious rather than conscious factors on the part of the employer. Employers are unlikely to change bad habits because of the prospect of having to carry out an equal pay audit if they’re found guilty of pay discrimination.
“In most cases it would be a disproportionate sanction which would bear heavily on employers.”