Patricia Hewitt Labour secretary of state for trade and industry
I don't need to tell readers of Personnel Today the importance of businesses valuing their employees and subscribing to decent work-life balance policies. One of my proudest achievements over the past four years at the DTI has been our ability to build support for, and extend our policies on flexible working. It's telling that in the last election campaign not one of the political parties dedicated a full day's campaigning to this agenda. Now, already, all three have (with the Tories reversing their consistent opposition to this agenda just in time for the election). The culture has changed and, I believe, changed for the better.
We want to give more choice to families about how they balance their work and home life - because it's good for them, good for our economy and society, because it gives their children a better start in life, and it's good for business. Our flexible working laws are already proving a success, with nearly 800,000 new working patterns in the first year alone and 87% of businesses surveyed by the CBI reporting that the law has had either a positive, or no impact on their business.
We are now consulting on proposals to extend the law to the carers of sick and disabled relatives and parents of older children. We also want to know if there is more the government can do to assist employers handling requests for flexible working and help employees make requests. As someone who has run small organisations for much of my working life, I recognise that the needs of parents and carers [have to be] balanced with the needs of business. We want to provide real choices for families but we must do this without damaging economic growth.
Many employers offer flexible working across the workforce as they consider it makes business sense to do so. We recognise this and have sought to encourage uptake through promoting the spread of best practice alongside targeted, light-touch legislation.
We have already introduced a number of measures to support working families, including longer maternity leave, increases in both Statutory Maternity Pay and the Maternity Allowance, plus extending the payment period. We are now consulting on giving a further £1,400 to working parents, and extending maternity pay and adoption pay from six to nine months by April 2007, w