Concerns over ‘radical’ new employment proposals

Posted on 16 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

The Government has proposed a variety of changes to the law regarding equal pay and gender discrimination, paternal and maternal paid leave periods, sparking anger among the private sector and trade bodies.

The consultation Modern Workplaces gives the right to request flexible working to those who have worked for a company or organisation for 26 weeks or more. The Government is considering establishing a statutory Code of Practice for businesses that would allow employers to consider individual circumstances when a request for flexible working is made by an employee.

“The absolute priority for the country today is to grow businesses and create jobs. This is how we will judge the merits of these proposals as we consult with companies,” said Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director.

While opposed to some of the changes in the government consultation, the CBI representative Ms. Hall agreed that some flexibility was required when employee’s lifestyles needed special consideration. “Employees and employers often informally agree working patterns that suit both parties and the Government is right to look at ways of encouraging this by removing unnecessary bureaucracy,” she said.

Proposed changes to the law concerning parental leave includes granting both mother and father an additional four weeks each of paid leave to be taken in the first year of childbirth. As well as this, 30 weeks of additional parental leave are to be made available to either parent, of which 17 weeks would be paid and could be broken in blocks between parents.

Ms. Hall voiced concerns over the consultation: “We are concerned by proposals to increase the total period of parental leave by another four weeks, given the UK already offers some of the most generous provisions in the world.”

As well as the CBI raising issues over the practicalities of extending leave allowances, several employers have raised concerns about the practicalities of dividing up leave to be taken in blocks. However, a clause in the proposals means that if a pattern of leave that suits employer and employee cannot be agreed then employers will be able to ensure the leave must be taken in one continuous period.

Jackie Orme, CIPD chief executive echoed some of these concerns: “We believe that parents should be required to take leave in reasonable blocks of time – no shorter than two weeks – if the employer is not to be subjected to unreasonable burdens.”

Vince Cable said of the reforms: “New parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves, rather than being dictated to by rigid government regulation as is currently the case.” He added: “We will ensure that businesses will still be able to take into account their needs when agreeing how leave can be taken.”

Proposals concerning equal pay include allowing employment tribunals that have found an employer to have discriminated on gender regarding pay to order the employer to conduct a pay audit. The tribunal will be able to publish their results, apart from when an audit has already been conducted.

Hall said of the equal pay proposals: “Employment tribunals were designed to settle disputes between individuals and employers, so a proposal to allow them to order equal pay audits across an entire firm is disproportionate and risks introducing class actions by the back door.”

George Archer