Maternity extensions trap women

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New maternity laws are preventing women from getting the jobs they want because employers think twice about hiring them.

Citrix Online, the survey authors, found that discrimination was particularly rife amongst the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

On 1 April 2007 women were granted an extension to maternity leave from six to nine paid months whilst the qualifying criteria allowing mums to take a total 12 months out of the workplace was removed meaning all mothers regardless of length of service can take a year.

Worryingly, 34 per cent of respondents admitted they weren’t aware of the changes. According to the survey authors, 30 per cent said it would be harder to retain talented women in the workforce, with a quarter believing that the latest changes would have a commercially negative impact.

On the positive side, 72 per cent felt that the new regulations will cause the more progressive companies to adopt additional flexible working practices to help working mothers manage the demands of work and family. Currently, 78 per cent of employers allow staff to take a day’s holiday at very short notice and 64 per cent offer the option to adjust start and finish time. However, just 18 per cent offer formal flexitime and only 11 per cent operate job sharing initiatives.

Only 43 per cent of SMEs have any technologies in place to support home working, compared to 76 per cent of bigger companies. Simon Presswell, managing director, EMEA, Citrix Online said that the lack of upfront investment in technology or IT expertise is hampering the progress of working mothers. He said that the ability to use a home PC to work on a regular or ad-hoc basis helped to accommodate the additional pressures of being a parent.

Presswell concluded by saying that the perception that hiring women can be detrimental to a business is untrue: "A recent study published by The Women and Work Commission asserts that if women’s participation in the labour market is increased, it could be worth up to £23 billion, or 2.0 per cent, of GDP."

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13th Aug 2007 13:17

Simon,

Your survey highlights the gap between the aims of the social engineering being implemented through EEC and UK law and the response of some employers.

Any extended period of absence will have a commercial cost - in this case maternity pay / cost of training and employing a temporary replacement etc - which may be offset in part by savings through retention of skills in the longer term. Whilst most employers act lawfully some who cannot afford to bear these costs may transfer jobs to low wage / low benefit economies to remain competitive and others will increase prices to cover the cost of meeting the new requirements. In the end we all pay for these increased benefits through job loses (and higher taxes to pay for unemployment benefits) or through price increases.

Prudent employers also recognise that the benefits of offering progressive working policies are diluted as these become the norm - reducing any impact they have on attracting / retaining skills / talent but not the associated costs. The law levels the playing field by setting minimum standards leaving employers with less room to compete on their own terms.

Flexible working works well in some roles but for others it isn't suitable - for example shops need staff when they open and until they close making flexible hours difficult to accommodate. What we are seeing is the loss of many of those shop jobs to internet alternatives - but at what social cost? Home working is equally limited in many roles - e.g. cleaners are needed on site not at home and technology isn't going to help until robotics make human cleaners unemployed.

I note that you refer to working mothers but say nothing about working fathers but it is the different treatment of mothers and fathers that causes employers to think differently about male and female employees. Equal treatment for men would help redress the balance and make it less of an issue for employers.

I would also take issue with your conclusion that the Women and Work Commission study proves that it is not true to say that hiring women can be detrimental to a business. Increasing the participation of any group in the economy - even child labour - would have this effect but that doesn't prove that an individual employer would gain - in reality they will bear the costs but only government is sure to gain - from increased taxation / reduced benefits payments etc. Some employers will gain extra business but not necessarily those who bear the increased cost and until men and women are treated equally in law employers will be tempted to take the lower cost option.

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