TUC Conference update: Gordon Brown on maternity pay; agency workers; civil service job cuts and more

Prime minister Gordon Brown addressed the TUC annual congress today, on a range of employment issues. Here is a round up of what he said on key HR topics.

Maternity pay/ paternity rights

Brown confirmed that plans to extend parental leave provisions will now be delayed until April 2011.

The prime minister told the TUC annual congress fathers would still be given the right to take up to six months paid paternity leave in the second six months of his child’s life – if the mother agreed – but this would be delayed by a year.

But while he reassured Congress that extensions to paid maternity leave beyond nine months would still happen, he gave no indication of whether this would still be extended to a year, or when these changes could be implemented.

He said: “Since 1997 we have increased paid maternity leave from 18 weeks to nine months. And we retain our ambition to extend this further.

“Now, from 2011 we will give fathers the right to take up three months of additional paid paternity leave during the second six months of a child’s life, if the mother has returned to work.”

Tom Cashman, a Unite delegate from the South East, told Personnel Today: “[Paternity leave rights] quite clearly should be coming in next year. This will cause a lot of inconvenience to a lot of people and it messes people’s families about.”

Jane Carolan, chair of the policy committee at Unison, added: “The delay is a concern but at least there’s still a commitment that the rights will still be brought in.”

Public service job cuts

Brown also insisted a Labour government would not cut frontline public sector services and jobs, leading to concerns that Labour would indeed cut non-frontline jobs and services.

Brown said: “Labour will cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets. But when our plans are published in the coming months people will see that Labour will not support cuts in the vital frontline services on which people depend.”

But Carolan told Personnel Today: “I am concerned that he promised there would be no cuts in frontline services. I don’t understand what that phrase means, what is their definition of frontline services? I don’t know how they expect the core workers to operate without the backup they need.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ deputy general secretary, added: “I don’t think cuts are necessary. At a time when the recession is really biting we need to preserve the integrity of the public services. The damage that slashing jobs across the public sector at the moment would cause would be irreparable.”

Civil servants’ serverence pay

The prime minister also confirmed that Whitehall early exit scheme pay outs for early retirement would be slashed, in a bid to save up to £500m over three years.

He said: “It’s a scheme that’s often as much as six times annual pay. These costs prevent us giving other people jobs and this is not the best way to spend public money.”

But the civil service union PCS warned the proposal would only achieve the level of savings sought by the government if tens of thousands of civil servants were made redundant after the changes were introduced.

Tony Conway, a PCS national executive committee member, told Personnel Today: “There’s no evidence to suggest that unless he stops making people redundant, any money will ever be saved. It would require tens of thousands of compulsory redundancies to save that amount of money, so is he saying he will make more people redundant?”

Agency workers

The prime minister also fuelled employers’ fears that the Agency Workers Directive could be implemented early.

He told Congress: “I believe that the fight for fairness must include agency workers, and so I pledge to you today that when parliament returns our new legislative programme will include equal treatment for agency workers and that in the coming months the law will be on the statute book.”

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