Maternity rights improvements spelled out

The government has outlined the full extent of its plans for extended maternity rights in a consultation paper published today by trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt.

The paper includes proposals to:

  • Extend maternity pay and adoption pay from six months to nine months by April 2007 with the goal of a year’s paid leave by the end of the next parliament
  • Introduce a  right for mothers to transfer a proportion of their maternity leave and pay to fathers to give more choice about caring for their children in the first year
  • Consider extending the right to request flexible working hours to carers of adults and parents of older children
  • Help employers – particularly small businesses – by giving them greater certainty about when employees are returning to work
  • Simplify the administration of maternity leave and pay for employers, including considering whether the government should pay parents direct through the Inland Revenue.

Hewitt said the proposals would be beneficial to business.

“Employers find greater flexibility suits their business needs well,” she said. “At a time of record employment, and in the war for talent, they attract and retain good staff, matching their business needs with the needs of the individual, which helps generate a more committed working environment.

Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, warned that more work needed to be done to make the business case for family-friendly working to avoid the danger of increasing discrimination against people with family or other caring responsibilities.

“Employers may be put off employing women because they perceive there will be greater costs,” she said.

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at EEF the manufacturers organisation, said the government must simplify the complex legislation and guidance on maternity leave and pay arrangements before introducing any extension to its family-friendly employment policies.

“Many manufacturers are already seeking to provide improved work-life balance for their employees, but there is a limit to the flexibility that they can offer if business efficiency and competitiveness is not to be adversely affected,” he said.

“It is vital that any legislative proposals to extend family-friendly employment policies must be balanced by simplifying the legislation on maternity pay and leave.”

He said that extending the right to request flexible working to parents with children who are older than 6 and to employees with caring responsibilities must be carefully addressed by the government and introduced in a measured way in order to avoid imposing additional administrative burdens and further costs on employers.

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