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Bell Pottinger North - Client News
Friday, November 04, 2005
WORK AND FAMILIES: CHOICE AND FLEXIBILITY

20 October 2005

Following today's announcement regarding the extension of rights for parents and carers, Frank Morton, Partner of the Employment Group at Bristol-based law firm, Beachcroft Wansbroughs comments:

"Today's announcement incorporates some of the changes we have been expecting on the extension of maternity and paternity leave. We are pleased to see that the Government has promised to provide assistance with the practical problems faced by employers when dealing with maternity absence. This will include guidelines to employers on dealing with the difficult question on whether they should contact employees during maternity leave or not. We also believe that the "keeping in touch" days will assist both employers and employees in the return to work following a maternity absence.

"However, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that these provisions are not unduly burdensome for employers, in either cost or administrative terms. Whether fathers will, in practice, take up extended paternity leave remains to be seen. Much may depend upon the perceived impact on their careers as well as their finances. A reduction in full pay to statutory paternity pay (comparable to the current maternity pay of £108.20 per week) may serve as a disincentive, particularly where the father is the principal breadwinner and has another mouth to feed."

Background

The Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson announced today the extension of rights for parents and carers as part of the Work and Families Bill. The Department of Trade and Industry received over 200 formal responses to its proposals during the consultation period from 28 February 2005 to 25 May 2005. The Government has now produced its response which incorporates the proposed changes.

The Government's commitment is to ensure every child gets the best start in life and give parents more choice in how to balance their work and family responsibility. The commitment is part of the Government's incorporation of the ten year strategy for childcare set out in the 2004 pre-budget report.

The changes include:-

1. the extension of paid maternity leave from 6 months to 9 months from April 2007;
2. the intention to increase the paid maternity leave to 1 year by the end of the present Parliament (2009);
3. to allow women who are absent on maternity leave "keeping in touch days" and to attend work for a limited number of days during the maternity paid period without any effect on their maternity pay. Tied in to this employers will be given guidance on what reasonable contact is permitted with mothers at any stage during maternity leave;
4. introducing a new paternity leave period of up to 6 months for fathers (in addition to the current 2 week paid paternity leave). This will in effect enable mothers to shorten their maternity leave and let the child's father take over care of the child. So, for example, if the mother returns to work after 3 months leave the father will (subject to certain criteria) be able to take up 6 months' leave;
5. extending the right to request flexible working to carers of sick or elderly adults from April 2007; and
6. there will also be further changes to help employers manage the administration of maternity leave, maternity pay and plan and assist employees returning to work.

The proposals are supported by parents, carers, employees and their representatives as a step in the right direction. The feedback from employers and their representatives has been varied but generally there appears to have been an acceptance and acknowledgement of the proposals to develop the principle of work-life balance. However, businesses are concerned that they should not be disproportionately affected either financially or from a productivity point of view by these changes.

- ENDS-

For more information, please contact:
Deborah Garritty / Oliver Danby, Bell Pottinger North
Tel: 01625 506444

Editors Note:

Beachcroft Wansbroughs is one of the largest commercial law firms in the UK. With over 1,220 employees, including 730 professional staff, it provides fully integrated legal advice and litigation services from its offices in Bristol, Birmingham, Brussels, Leeds, London, Manchester and Winchester. Its customer-focused service proposition reflects both the depth of expertise and the approachable nature of the firm and its partners. It is one of the largest law firms in the country to obtain the 'Investors in People' award across all of its offices and was recently shortlisted for Law Firm of the Year in the 2005 Legal Business Awards, as well as being a finalist for The Lawyer's Employment Team of the Year Award.

The Bristol team currently includes 25 partners and 198 staff. Its partners have particular expertise and experience in commercial property, public sector, PFI/PPP projects, health, IT, construction, litigation, financial services and employment law.

For further information please visit our website http://www.bwlaw.co.uk or call 0117 918 2000.

Press contacts: Deborah Garritty/John Butters @ Bell Pottinger North
Tel. + 44 (1625) 506444 Fax + 44 (1625) 500900
dgarritty@bellpottingernorth.co.uk / odanby@bellpottingernorth.co.uk

 

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