Paid leave for carers proposal could cover temporary workers

Proposals to allow employees to claim paid leave when they care for sick relatives could be extended to cover temps, Personnel Today has learned.

The academic commissioned by the government to suggest how to improve work-life balance for carers has told the magazine that paid leave could become available to temporary workers as well as permanent staff.

Dalia Ben-Galim, researcher at left-wing think-tank IPPR, said: “Our review of work-life balance policies, including the right to paid leave, will most likely help those people on lower pay, in more vulnerable jobs, including part-time jobs. This could include temporary workers.”

Paid leave for carers: other HR concerns

HR directors contacted by Personnel Today expressed concern over the proposal to allow workers to claim paid leave to look after sick relatives. Here is a selection of quotes on various issues covered by the HR professionals.

“My concerns are how we would actually police this system and ensure that employees are taking time off to care for dependents.”
Debra Poulson, HR manager at metals company Firth Rixon

“The amount of leave should be capped each year on a rolling leave basis.”
Donna Miller, European HR director at Enterprise Rent-a-Car

“No more than one to two weeks is workable. Any more and it becomes a burden in terms of cover of work and paying for this.”
An HR director from the charity sector, who wished to remain anonymous.

“A Green Paper at this stage of the electoral cycle is a complete waste of time. There will be a general election before this becomes a White Paper, never mind law.”
Ben Jenkinson, HR director at chemicals company Johnson Matthey

On Monday women’s minister Harriet Harman said she would consider the proposals, which will form part of a Green Paper expected in January, but her department the Government Equalities Office insisted “nothing concrete” had been approved.

There are nearly six million unpaid carers in the UK – 12% of the adult population. One in six people with caring responsibilities give up or cut back work to care and face a significant drop in income, according to the charity Carers UK.

HR chiefs warned the ideas would be costly and difficult to implement, and questioned the need for temporary workers to be entitled to the same rights as permanent staff.

Noel McGonigle, group HR director at Azzurri Communications, said: “I think this would be counter-productive to the employment of temporary workers and could lead to a ridiculous position of having to hire a temp to cover a temp who was on paid leave to care for children or the elderly.”

Sonia Sharples, head of HR at budget retailer Poundland, said: “Temps are recruited for a specific period to do a very specific role – ie, in our business we recruit a large number of temps for Christmas. It would not be worth it if we then had to consider additional time off during that time.”

By December 2011, the UK government will have implemented the Agency Workers Directive, which will provide about 100,000 agency workers with equal rights to permanent staff, including pay, after they have worked with an organisation for 12 weeks.

Some HR chiefs said it was inevitable that temps would pick up more employment rights, including paid leave to look after sick relatives.

Right to time off for dependents: the current law

Under section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. Visit the XpertHR reference manual for details of how and when this can be applied.

Paula Jordan, HR director at housebuilder McCarthy and Stone, said: “I think we have to face the fact that temporary staff will be treated the same as permanent staff, so there is little point in arguing differently.”

Cambridgeshire County Council HR director Stephen Moir said the law had shifted in recent years to provide fair working conditions for all workers, irrespective of their employment status. “Maybe employers need to think more and more about the costs of employment and ‘right sizing’ their organisations to reduce the need to rely on temps as often,” he said.

However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned the proposals were a “step too far”. Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser, said: “I don’t think there should be a right to paid leave. It is a step too far when employers are still getting to grips with the right to request flexible working.”

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