Government risks reversing popular flexible working rights, warns TUC

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date: 5 August 2011

embargo: 00.01hrs Monday 8 August 2011

Weakening the right to request flexible working risks giving employers the green light to abandon family friendly practices, the TUC warns today (Monday) in its submission to the government's modern workplaces consultation.

The TUC submission recognises the improvements to flexible working rights over the last decade and supports the proposal to extend the right to request flexible working to all workers. The right is currently only available to parents and carers of children aged under 17 and disabled children aged under 18.

However, the proposal to remove the minimum legal standards, which ensure that flexible working requests are given a fair hearing, in the government's new universal right to request could weaken current flexible working rights and encourage employers to reject requests without proper consideration, the TUC warns.

The TUC is also concerned that the proposal to reduce the designated maternity leave period to 18 weeks could lead to half of all working mothers having their maternity pay reduced.

Government statistics shows that nearly 60 per cent of working mothers receive contractual maternity pay above the statutory minimum and the vast majority of these get it for 26 weeks. Reducing the designated period to 18 weeks could lead mean-spirited employers to slash costs by reducing the length of contractual maternity pay too, says the TUC.

The TUC submission supports the government's aim of encouraging more shared parenting and its plans to allow more flexible take-up of leave. But it believes the maternity leave period should be reduced to 26 weeks, rather than 18, with the rest of the current year's leave being shared parental leave.

The submission particularly welcomes the proposal to create a new 'daddy month' - a month of parental leave just for dads to use in the first year.

But the TUC believes that better pay is vital to encourage more shared parenting and it calls for the leave to be paid at earnings-related rates, as is already the case for the first six weeks of maternity leave.

The government estimates that, on average, less than one in ten (eight per cent) dads will use the 'daddy month' and far less will use any of the other shared parental leave.

Research shows that in countries such as Iceland and Sweden, where fathers' leave is paid at earnings replacement levels, take up is 10 times higher than is expected in the UK, where it will be paid at just £128.73 a week.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'While ministers deserve credit for suggesting new family friendly policies such as longer periods of fathers' leave, other proposals on flexible working could undermine this and turn the clock back.

'Weakening the right to request flexible working will give bad employers the wrong message and is the excuse they've been looking for to ignore requests. The government should remember how successful and popular this right has been for parents over the last decade and put their needs ahead of the same old carping from business lobbyists.

'The government also needs to steer clear of such large reductions in the designated period of maternity leave as it could effectively lead to a huge pay cut for new mothers who currently benefit from contractual maternity pay. With family finances already hit by tax credit cuts and high inflation this is the last thing that new parents need.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- The TUC submission to the government's consultation on modern workplaces is available under embargo at www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/56/Modern_Workplaces_TUCresponse.pdf

- The government's discussion forum for the modern workplaces consultation is available at http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/modernworkplaces/

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet

- Congress 2011 will be held at the TUC's Congress House in central London this year. The event runs over three days, from Monday 12 to Wednesday 14 September. Free media passes can be obtained by visiting www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-19831-f0.cfm and filling in the online form. All applications for media passes must be received no later than noon on Monday 5 September. Any applications received after then will be processed when possible and may be subject to delay. Late applications will be subject to a £50 administration fee. Wi-fi will be available free of charge throughout the venue.

Contacts:

Media enquiries:
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

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