By April 2007, paid maternity leave will be payable for a period of nine months, up from the current six months and by the end of the next Parliament the government hope to take it to a full term of a year.
But will this policy of pro-family rights help women in the workplace?
Will businesses, particularly those already heavily burdened by red-tape shy away from employing women - finding 'justifiable reasons' not to employ them?
Will therefore these parental sweeteners turn out to be sugar-coated and actually rot our teeth? Share your views on this interesting and potentially explosive area of employment law.
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If companies hadn’t taken such an inflexible attitude towards employees’ need to manage their working arrangements, then extreme laws, such as the one proposed by Cherie Blair, would never stand a chance.
The predictable result of such inflexibility is absenteesm, when staff find that the hours they want to work don’t coincide with the hours they are required to work – or when there is an obstacle (such as a new-born infant) to going in to the office, even though job duties could as easily be performed from a home PC or telephone with junior asleep in the next room.
Perhaps the answer is treat employees in the same way that contract staff are normally treated -- as adults who can be trusted. You don’t have to be either young or female to understand that, as absenteeism figures prove.
It is a nice idea to make life easier for families (including the male members) but is it just rearranging the deck chairs?
We are already seeing manufacturing, call centre, banking and IT jobs going to low labour cost countries such as India, China and Western Europe. I think this will increase dramatically and consequently unemployment in the UK will rise, making these new policies unattainable for many people - you can only have them if you have a job.
The argument used to be that we should concentrate on the high-tec, high added value, knowledge based industries. However, it seems to me that it is just as easy (in some cases easier eg IT) to move these also to lower cost countries.
I think we need to think very carefully about the competitiveness of the UK and how best that can be improved, whilst still treating employees decently.
As a small business owner (15 employees), whether it is legal or not, it is essential for us as to carefully consider the consequences of taking on a woman of child-bearing age. We are in the IT industry and it takes up to 6 months to get someone fully trained for a role. We therefore simply do not have the flexibility to have someone go off on maternity leave for 6 or 9 months or longer. The result of this is that women of that age get discriminated against in all jobs where long term training is required. It may not be legal but from a small business perspective it is simply essential and a matter of business survival.
I was also in the position of job hunting at that critical age for women, and I found it extremely hard to find a job, and I was not surprised!
So Cherie, please do women a favour and DON'T get the period of maternity leave increased. Small businesses want to employ good women to do intelligent work, they contribute to the work place in a different and special way, but this legislation is making the risks too great for us.
I think it is brave of you to get involved in the debate. HR professionals in larger companies will ensure that Cherie Blair's stance prevails but there should be concern about the long term effect. The effect on total employment opportunities available for men and women in the UK of such legislation is profound. The trend towards self employment and running your own business, which I support, increases.
As employment in the 250+ employee companies declines it increases in the 99% of companies that have under 50 employees. In other words 4 million owner managed enterprises play 30,000 medium and large businesses. Many of these owner managers, particularly in high growth sectors like business to business services and new entrepreneurs are becoming employment avoiders. They'd rather build their businesses using flexible and changing teams of free lancers outsourced services etc.
Frankly, they'd rather pay the extra service cost of gaining human resource and intellectual capital on a deliverable basis rather than the extra hassle cost associated with employees. Employee absence in all its forms being one of the biggest hassles. I have co-owned a business for 20 years and it is a marked trend amongst our peers and suppliers.
This trend towards self employment rather than employment fits with the increasing trend for executives and professionals to jump off the corporate treadmill to do their own thing. Last year was a record year for new business start ups with 460,000 new entrepreneurs.
I'm not sure that the government quite realises what a brilliant strategy increasing employee rights and employment legislation has towards boosting an enterprise and entrepreneurial Britain.