The UK’s first coalition Government for 70 years has recently published its plans for the reform of employment law, with a focus on improving family friendly rights. Jenny Wotherspoon considers the likely impact of these proposals.
Topic: Working conditions
Who: UK Coalition Government
When: May 2010
Law stated as at: 31 May 2010
On 20 May 2010, the UK's first coalition Government for 70 years published its legislative program. Alongside the well publicised deficit reduction measures, the Government also signalled its intention to implement changes to existing employment legislation, with a focus on family friendly rights. In the Queen's speech on 25 May 2010, the Government confirmed that it would be seeking to "remove barriers to flexible working and promote equal pay".
Jenny Wotherspoon considers the likely impact of these proposals for employers in the marketing and advertising sectors.
In the run-up to the general election, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stressed their "family-friendly" credentials, so it is no surprise to see these issues on the coalition's legislative agenda. As expected, there is little to indicate how the coalition's broad policy aims will be implemented in practice and, as with all such measures, the devil will be in the detail. Employers will need to wait for the publication of fuller proposals to gain a better understanding of what they can expect over the coming years, however, for now, the headline proposals are:
The Government plans to extend the right to "request" flexible working to all employees. It is not clear at this stage when the changes proposed by the coalition Government will take effect.
Under the current regulations the right is restricted to:
– parents with a child aged 16 or under;
– parents with a disabled child aged 18 or under; and
– carers of dependant adults.
The existing regulations require an employer to deal with a flexible working request in accordance with a set statutory procedure which provides that the request can be refused for a number of specified business reasons.
The government has stated that it "will encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy" and this will include flexible parental leave.
This is an area which has already been subject to considerable change. Following recent legislation, parents of babies born on or after 3 April 2011 will be entitled to additional paternity leave and pay. Eligible employees will have the right to take up to 26 weeks' paternity leave, if the mother returns to work early. Such leave cannot start until the 20th week after the child's birth and must be taken before the child reaches the age of one. Eligible employees will be entitled to be paid for part of this leave if the leave is taken during the mother's statutory paid maternity leave period, which is currently 39 weeks. The rate of pay will be at the same rate as statutory maternity pay, which is currently £123.06. However, this allowance is reviewed annually and is likely to be increased before the legislation becomes operational.
It is not clear what changes the new Government intends to make to these regulations. However, before the election, the Liberal Democrats said that they would look at the possibility of extending the duration of shared parental leave to 18 months in some circumstances. The Conservatives confirmed that they would look to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave but that fathers would not be able to start such leave until 14 weeks after the child's birth.
The Liberal Democrats also stated in their manifesto that they would introduce a right for fathers to take time off for ante-natal appointments. This has not been mentioned in the coalition policy statements but arguably it could fall within the scope of the general policy of shared parenting.
The government intends to "promote equal pay and take a range of measures to end discrimination in the workplace", in particular, it will:
– Undertake a fair pay review in the public sector; and
– Look to promote gender equality on the boards of listed companies.
It remains to be seen whether any changes will be introduced to the recent Equality Act which comes into force on 1 October 2010.
The Equality Act seeks to consolidate existing discrimination legislation to make it easier to understand. It also introduces several new provisions, including:
– A right to claim dual discrimination where an individual believes they have been treated unfairly on two protected grounds (for example, age and sex).
– A ban on pre-employment health enquiries unless they are made for specified reasons, for example, where it is intrinsically necessary for the role.
– Making un-enforceable any contractual term which seeks prevent an employee from disclosing their level of pay to colleagues.
– Expanding the concept of positive action to allow employers to recruit or promote someone from an under-represented group where they have a choice between two or more equally suitable candidates.
Whilst the Conservatives openly opposed the Equality Act and indicated that they might seek to repeal certain aspects, the Liberal Democrats did not believe the changes went far enough. It seems, for now, that further radical developments in this area may have been set aside in interests of preserving the delicate coalition.