The TUC believes that any new model should meet the following objectives:
The TUC believes the following principles must underpin any reformed system:
Trade unions negotiate enhanced workplace policies that support parents to manage their work and childcare responsibilities. The TUC estimates that unions organise around 130,000 union representatives. Union reps have a unique workplace insight and experience of the common issues that working parents face. Unions campaign for improvements to the rights of working parents, based on what our 5.5 million members tell us.
The TUC recognises that families come in all shapes and sizes. We adopt the broadest and most inclusive concept of parenthood. Where we make specific reference to increasing paternal involvement, this is because we believe that is where the change needs to be directed to better achieve the policy goals on gender inequality.
The TUC believes that meaningful reform is needed to address systemic problems in the labour market that have shackled the potential and aspirations of working mothers and prevented fathers from becoming more actively involved in caring for their children.
We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this consultation on reforming the parental rights system and agree that reform is necessary. However, we believe that half measures or repackaging of existing rights where a gain for one parent comes at a cost to the other will not begin to address the barriers that working parents face. We recommend that the current system of maternity, paternity and shared parental leave is replaced by a simpler, more equal system that would provide stronger rights for each parent and better achieve the objectives of a progressive parental leave system.
Reform of the parental leave system on its own is not sufficient to address the entrenched disadvantage faced by working parents and in particular mothers. It must be part of a package of wider reforms, encompassing subsidised, affordable childcare, a day one right to flexible working and meaningful steps to promote equal pay and reduce the gender pay gap.
The TUC’s submission will focus on:
More women are in paid employment than ever before, but caring responsibilities remain unequally divided between mums and dads, impacting women’s equal access to employment and increasing the discrimination and marginalisation women face in the workplace.
The unequal division of caring responsibilities has a direct negative impact on women’s ability to maintain and progress in employment. There is a large body of international evidence showing that women with children suffer large pay penalties and that taking time out of the labour force or returning to work part-time due to caring commitments may be damaging for career progression:
Studies show that where paid paternity leave lengths are greater, the motherhood penalty is smaller. Enabling families to share caring responsibilities more equally improves women’s employment outcomes and has positive benefits for children’s health and development:
Reforming parental leave policies is a way that the government can give working parents legal rights and financial support to share caring responsibilities more equally, giving every child the opportunity to spend time bonding with and being cared for by both parents and to ensure women do not lose out due to pregnancy and birth.
Societal attitudes have shifted considerably since our parental leave systems were designed. The 2017 Modern Families Index published by the charity Working Families and Bright Horizons, shows fathers wanting to take a much more active part in childcare and of workplaces failing to adapt and support their aspirations. Research by ACAS found dads pay a ‘parenthood penalty’, not in forgoing their careers and salary but in time spent with their children and family.
Our current model of parental leave entrenches the concept that dads/partners are secondary care givers - there is no period of mandatory leave for dads/partners and statutory paternity pay and leave is significantly less than for mums meaning many dads are unable to take it, despite wanting to.
Affordability is a key barrier preventing parents from accessing their paternity and shared parental leave rights. The failure of the current Shared Parental Leave policy, which has seen a take-up of 1% of those eligible, is not because of a lack of desire on the part of parents but because the scheme did not create any new rights for the non-birth parent and is so low-paid (£145.18 per week) that it is unaffordable for most parents and their families performance vs. long hours at work. A newly reformed parental leave system led by BEIS can drive the systemic, workplace cultural changes need to rebalance the status quo of caring responsibilities.
The evidence strongly shows that uptake of parental leave among dads is shown to be much higher when the leave is paid at a rate families can afford to live on, such as 90% of AWE and is dads’ individual and non-transferable right – that is, it cannot be transferred to the baby’s mother, and is lost to the family if not used by the father15. The current rate of statutory paternity pay is inadequate for families to live on - paid at a rate of less than half of what someone on the National Minimum Wage would earn working a 35-hour week.
Studies show that the paternal quota works, as measured by how many men take leave. Uptake among dads increased in several EU countries after the introduction of a dedicated well-paid leave entitlement for fathers (so called ‘daddy quotas’)16:
If a portion of leave isn’t specifically designated for dads and remunerated at a rate they and their families can afford to live on, few men will take it, placing the responsibility for caregiving overwhelmingly on women and thereby reinforcing inequalities at home and at work.
Our parental leave and pay policies should be designed to prevent employers from discriminating against women or treating them unfairly because they have been absent, or are likely to be absent, from work. But the evidence tells us they are failing to do so.
Research by the EHRC found strong evidence of employers’ discriminatory attitudes towards pregnant women, new mums and women of child-bearing age:
These discriminatory attitudes have a direct impact on women’s working lives.
Protecting women and families from discrimination not only protects women’s economic participation but the health and wellbeing of their child. The evidences overwhelmingly shows that: “the most important condition for children's well-being is families‘ economic stability. Parental leave [guarantees] that people can have children and return to their jobs without adverse consequences, thus ensuring children's well-being.”
A reformed parental leave system that enshrines the individual, non-transferable rights of both parents, rebalancing childcare responsibilities between mums and dads and protecting parents from discrimination would ensure BEIS better meets its objective of reducing pregnancy and maternity discrimination and achieving gender equality in the workplace
Employment status should not be a barrier to parents accessing their parental rights but increased casualisation of the workforce, lack of day one paternity rights and the challenges faced by the genuinely self-employed pose particular problems for new mums and dads.
Research by the TUC in 2018, found that 1 in 4 new dads did not qualify for two weeks’ statutory paternity pay because they are either ineligible for it or are unable to afford to take it. Around 41,000 dads didn’t get paternity leave in 2018 because they hadn’t been working for their employer for long enough. The law requires employees to have at least six months’ service with their current employer by the 15th week before the baby is due to qualify for paternity pay.
Around 100,000 dads weren’t entitled to statutory paternity pay because they were self-employed. Unlike self-employed mums who may be eligible for maternity allowance, dads who work for themselves don’t get a similar paternity allowance. Many of these dads may be ‘bogus self-employed’ – a tactic used by some employers to deny staff basic rights at work.
The rise of precarious, low-paid work, often without any guaranteed hours and with few employment securities (such as sickness or maternity benefits) has created additional pressures for workers. Pregnant women and new mums are facing a weakening of their maternity rights in the workplace. Women have reported that they stopped receiving shifts when they told their employer they were pregnant or were deliberately asked to carry out tasks that were unsafe, consequently forcing them to leave work or risk their health and that of their unborn baby. This is concerning as when “maternity leave is: paid, provided in a job secure context and with a duration of at least 10 weeks” there are positive health gains for children.
Dads in zero-hours or short-term contracts have told us they are also experiencing difficulties accessing their parental rights as a result of casualisation. Many dads in precarious report that they have been unable to attend ante-natal appointments with their partner or are worried that if asking for family friendly shift patterns or more notice for shift cancellations, they would be offered fewer shifts and less work in the future or would not get any work at all.
Women’s progression in the workplace continues to be held back by the tensions between current ways of organising work and caring responsibilities. Mums are more likely to withdraw from full-time employment compared to dads after having children and enter part-time work or leave the workforce altogether. Whilst this is often positioned as an active choice, in truth it is often a necessity driven by the lack of quality flexible jobs and lack of affordable, flexible childcare. This exacerbates existing gender inequalities and pay disparities. Pay and progression opportunities are worse for part-time workers than for those in full-time work. The gender pay gap for part-time work compared to full-time equivalents is 34.8% - much higher than the national gender pay gap average of 17.9%.
Reforms to maternity, paternity and parental leave should be part of a package of wider reforms that includes a day one right to flexible work and subsidised, affordable childcare system. OECD evidence suggests that affordable quality childcare is the main driver in achieving better female labour market participation outcomes; and that parental leave policies and flexible work practices can help support this. There are also a number of benefits to employers when adopting family-friendly working policies and practices – increased loyalty, commitment, performance and productivity, as well as improved recruitment and retention of valued staff, that bring financial benefits for employers in the longer-term.
The government should commit to a non-regression clause principle to ensure reforms to our parental leave system improve and strengthen existing maternity rights and protections, not undermine them.
Pregnant women and new mums require strong maternity rights to ensure they do not feel compelled to work when it is unsafe to do so and strong protection from discrimination as a result of pregnancy or maternity leave. These rights and protections ensure women’s equal access to employment and a secure income for their family.
We do not accept the government’s proposition that reforms can only take place by redistributing existing leave entitlements. Any attempt by BEIS to weaken or undermine women’s existing package of rights and protections could worsen the already significant levels of discrimination they face in the workplace and exacerbate gender inequalities, and should therefore be avoided.
The government should extend the compulsory element of maternity leave from 2 to 14 weeks to ensure pregnant women and new mums have adequate time to prepare for and recover from birth.
Mothers need sufficient time to fully prepare for and recover from birth. The International Labour Organisation’s standard for a minimum period of maternity leave is 14 weeks and recommend that it should be taken immediately before and after birth to protect the health and wellbeing of both mother and baby.
Mums will only be able to take this period of leave if it is remunerated fairly. Therefore, the TUC recommend it is paid at a rate of 90% of AWE, without a cap, to ensure families do not incur a financial penalty.
This mandatory period of paid leave should be considered by BEIS as separate and distinct to a parent’s right to leave in order to bond with and care for their baby.
We recognise that some mothers may wish to return to work before 12 weeks. Therefore, we propose reforming the way KiT days operate, giving a mother the right to choose to activate a KiT day which would enable her to keep in touch with work before the end of the 14 weeks if this was her choice.
The TUC recommends a period of mandatory paternity leave for new dads so that they can provide support to their partner and to help her recover from childbirth.
Dads will only be able to take this period of leave if it is remunerated fairly. Therefore, the TUC recommends it be paid at a rate of 90% of AWE, without a cap, to ensure families do not incur a financial penalty and to meet the objective of increasing paternal involvement in the early years.
This mandatory period of leave should be considered by BEIS as separate and distinct to a parent’s right to leave. The purpose of this mandatory leave would be to provide support to their partner and for the father/partner to bond with and care for their baby.
The TUC proposes that the government align the period of optional paternity and maternity leave/pay for mums and dad/partners. This optional, non-transferable period of paternity and maternity leave for both parents would provide simpler and stronger rights for workers, provide much needed clarity for employers and enable both parents to spend valuable time bonding with and caring for their baby.
These will be individual entitlements and non-transferable to the other partner, given the evidence that a ‘use it or lose it’ element is the best incentive to achieve the objective of increasing paternal involvement in the early years and equalising caring responsibilities between mums and dads.
The government should increase statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay to at least Real Living Wage levels so that new parents aren’t forced to go back to work before they or their baby are ready.
While the UK has a comparatively long maternity leave compared to the rest of the EU, only a small proportion of this is paid at an adequate level. Without adequate maternity pay, women’s choices are limited and many cannot afford to take their leave entitlements. Mums in the UK get one of the lowest amounts of decently-paid maternity leave in Europe, most European countries offer three months or more. This means many new mums feel forced to return to work before they or their child are ready, risking their health and that of their new-born.
Statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay should be funded by the State and the current level of reimbursement of 92% for all employers. Reimbursement for small businesses who qualify for Small Employers Relief should be raised to ensure small employers receive appropriate levels of payment in recognition of additional costs towards associated costs of maternity, paternity and adoption leave, such as accrual of annual leave.
The TUC recognises that to change cultural norms and positively impact on gender equality, caring responsibilities will have to be rebalanced, with fathers taking on an equal share of caring responsibilities. The most effective way of achieving this aim is to make sure that fathers undertake a significant period of childcare on their own. A whole body of evidence shows that fathers who undertake childcare on their own in the early years are more likely to be involved in the future:
Dr. Helen Norman’s analysis of over 10,500 two-parent, opposite-sex (mother-father) households in Great Britain reveals that mothers with pre-school children are twice as likely to return to employment nine months, and three years post-childbirth if their partner is involved by sharing or doing the most childcare at these times. This is the case even when other factors affecting a mother’s decision to return to paid work are taken into account, such as the father’s employment status, the mother’s occupational class and the mother’s gender role attitudes towards work and care
However, we also recognise that there may be circumstances where families want and need to decide on joint caring arrangements which best suit their circumstances. Therefore, the TUC proposes that parents could use their leave concurrently for a maximum period of 6 months. This would enable families who choose to do so to spend time together and for parents to jointly care for their children. This may be of particular benefit where parents or children experience ill health.
Evidence from Sweden suggests introducing a ‘double month’ (a period of leave that can be taken concurrently) has encouraged more fathers to take leave earlier and potentially to take more leave than they otherwise would have If parents choose to take leave consecutively, this would allow parents to care for their child up to, or close to, the time that subsided childcare provision starts. This would better achieve the outcome of reducing the gender pay gap and negative impact that caring responsibilities have on women’s career development and earnings.
All working parents should have access to the same rights, from day one in their jobs, regardless of their employment status. All workers, including zero-hours contracts workers, agency workers and those in casual work, should benefit from the same decent floor of rights currently enjoyed by employees. This includes all family friendly rights, which are by and large, only available to “employees”. This would give greater security to workers who already face a high degree of job precariousness and income instability and ensure the parental leave system reflects the changing nature of the labour market.
All parental rights should be a day one right so that no parent is prevented from accessing their parental rights and protections.
A paternity allowance for dads who are not eligible for statutory paternity pay, similar to the maternity allowance some self-employed mothers can claim. The rate of pay should be harmonised in line with the newly improved rates of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption leave pay we suggest in recommendation.
Implementing a progressive, parental rights system is good for families, employers and the economy. Reforms to parental leave policies should go alongside:
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