Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Modern Workplaces Consultation

Government proposes radical reforms for parental leave and flexible working - Creating a modern workplace

UK Government Home Secretary Minister Theresa May launched the "Consultation on Modern Workplaces" on the 16th May 2011. The Consultation, which runs until the 8th August 2011, intends to meet the Government’s stated aim of creating "a society where work and family complement each other” and where "employees no longer have to choose between a rewarding career and fulfilling family life”.

This is to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave from 2015 as part of its plans to create a modern workplace for the modern economy.

Under the proposals, once the early weeks of maternity and paternity leave have ended, parents will be able to share the overall leave allowance between them.

Unlike the current system this leave could be taken in a number of different blocks and both parents could take leave at the same time.

The three key proposed changes are: Flexible parental leave, Flexible working, Working time regulations and Equal pay

What is being proposed?

Flexible Parental Leave
18 weeks maternity leave and pay – in one continuous block around birth.
Four weeks of parental leave and pay exclusive to each parent to be taken in the first year.
30 weeks of additional parental leave available to either parent - of which 17 weeks would be paid and can be broken in blocks between parents.

Flexible Working
Extending the right to request for all workers who have been with their employer for 26 weeks.
The Government will consider publishing a statutory Code of Practice for businesses. It will propose that employers should be allowed to take into account employees individual circumstances when considering conflicting requests.
There are no plans to alter the current 8 business reasons for a business to turn down a request.
The Government recognises that legislation is not the only answer to promoting flexible working practices. Non-legislative measures are being developed to promote flexible working opportunities both for those with a job and for those looking for one.

Equal Pay
Employment Tribunals that have found an employer to have discriminated on gender in relation to pay, will order the employer to conduct a pay audit and publish their results (except in some circumstances, such as where an audit has already been conducted).

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“Our proposals will encourage greater choice by giving employees and their employers the flexibility to find arrangements to suit them both.

"New parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves, rather than being dictated to by rigid Government regulation as is currently the case. And employers should be encouraged to come to agreement with employees on how work and family responsibilities can be met simultaneously.

“These measures are fairer for fathers and maintain the existing entitlements for mothers – but crucially give parents much greater choice over how to balance their work and family commitments.

“Of course I’m mindful of the need to minimise the costs, bureaucracy and complexities on businesses. This has been at the forefront of my mind throughout the development of our proposals. So we will ensure that businesses will still be able to take into account their needs when agreeing how leave can be taken. But I’m also confident that we have a good case to make on the wider benefits to business - not least from a motivated and flexible workforce and we will be making this case to employers over the next few years before these changes are introduced.”

The Consultation Document can be downloaded HERE More Information at BIS Website HERE

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) has just issue a Press Release yesterday afternoon saying:

CIPD welcomes direction of travel on shared parental leave, and commits to working with Government to improve the proposals

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) today gave a broad welcome to the principles and ambitions behind the Government's Modern Workplaces consultation, and committed to continuing to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through the consultation process to ensure the final proposals are workable and deliver the intended benefits for both employers and employees.

Arguing that the objectives of the Government's proposals - to reform parental leave to encourage greater sharing of caring responsibilities between parents - are achievable, but could be undermined by poor implementation, Jackie Orme, CIPD Chief Executive, said:

"We welcome the principles and ambitions behind these proposals. The phrase 'work/life balance' assumes that there is a clear and impermeable divide between work and life. In reality, working lives and home lives overlap in today's world to a greater degree than ever before.

"At the same time, traditional gender roles in relation to parenting are changing. That fact has been recognised, but not resolved, by policymakers and business leaders alike. And it is important in the context of this consultation. It is simply not possible for influential voices in the business lobby to be, at once, firmly in favour of getting more women on to boards and closing the gender pay gap, as I am; against crude instruments such as quotas and compulsory pay audits, as I also am; but simultaneously against light-touch measures to support change to cultural norms that force able women to make choices between careers that fully utilise their talents and their roles as parents. These are choices that men are not traditionally required to make in the same way. Although that fact is beginning to change, the inflexibility of existing maternity regulations and the way they support cultural norms acts as a brake on progress.

"Successive reviews of the impact of male dominated, monocultural boards on business performance and the intractable gender pay gap have concluded the problems are multiple and complex, and that long-term cultural change is required. Done right, these proposals offer the prospect of removing state-sponsored obstacles to those already noticeable long-term cultural changes, in a way that levels the playing field for talented, ambitious, successful women who also choose, with their partners, to become parents.

"Growing numbers of employers recognise these facts, and they tell us they're seeing significant shifts in attitudes to flexible working and the sharing of parental responsibilities. These proposals seek to remove regulatory obstacles that can prevent employers and employees from developing truly flexible, mutually beneficial solutions. They are a welcome contrast to the kind of prescriptive legislation that often militates against real cultural change. Instead, they are designed to give parents maximum flexibility to choose how and when to take parental leave, in the firm context of the need to protect the employers' ability to run their business.

"We retain some concerns about the workability of some of the details of the proposals in the consultation document as they currently stand. We believe that parents should be required to take leave in reasonable blocks of time - no shorter than two weeks - if the employer is not to be subjected to unreasonable burdens. And we'll be looking for reassurance about the adequacy of HMRC IT systems to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy that might be associated with the administration of these proposals.

It will also be important that, however parental leave is organised, the employer should have adequate notice of parents' intentions so that they have the opportunity to make alternative arrangements. We will continue to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through the consultation process, closely involving our members, to ensure that the final proposals are clear, simple and workable, and achieve their objectives.

"It is crucial that the Government takes time to get this right. A failure to establish a regime that both employers and employees are happy with could fatally undermine the Government's objective of giving effective support to parents, and of changing a culture that presumes women always hold the primary responsibility for childcare."

Extending flexible working to all:-

Jackie Orme added: "We welcome also the Government's intention to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. This move is overdue and will help to break down the perception of a growing workplace divide between those with caring responsibilities and others. Many of our members' employers already offer the right to request flexible working to all, in recognition of the high value many employees, regardless of their family situations, place on flexible working. Our evidence suggests that flexible working supports employee engagement and this has a positive effect on performance, benefitting both the employer and the employee."

Source: BIS & CIPD

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