Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Transport and General Workers Union (PL 5)


  The T&G strongly supports the right to paid parental leave. We believe this is best for mothers, best for fathers, best for adoptive parents and best for children. Parental leave should enhance children's lives as well as parents and family life as a whole.

  Our arguments, set out in full in our response to the government's Fairness at Work White Paper, are summarised as follows:

1.   Low take-up of unpaid leave

  The take-up of any unpaid parental leave provision would be very low, undermining the principle of parental leave. Studies in Sweden, where parental leave rights have been effective for many years, have shown that only after the government raised the level of payment, did employees exercise the right and in particular, men.

  In the UK, there are strong parallels for unpaid parental leave to the existing right for mothers to unpaid extended maternity absence which has a low uptake.

2.   Workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave

  Few low paid workers will be able to exercise this right. More than seven million people in Britain earn less than £5 per hour. More than 700,000 families claimed Family Credit, and the government expects 1.3 million families to claim Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC). Low-income families will not be able to afford to take unpaid leave, which will not assist the government's aims to tackle social exclusion.

  Even for average earners, it should be noted that most young families live up to their family income, for example, by matching housing to income in terms of rent and mortgages. Such expenses cannot be suspended during parental leave, and being able to take parental leave is likely to depend on savings.

  Whether an employee is paid at a low or average level, most parents will only take unpaid parental leave in emergencies. Yet time-off for domestic crises is a distinct right, and the right to take parental leave will be contingent on providing notice periods.

3.   Lack of rights to paid leave for fathers

  Fathers will still have no rights at all to paid leave. In 1995 the House of Commons Employment Select Committee argued for a minimum entitlement to five days paid paternity leave. The T&G and the TUC have long argued for a minimum entitlement of ten days.

4.   Lack of rights to paid leave for adoptive parents

  Neither will either adoptive parents have rights to paid leave, a serious injustice, despite the small numbers of children adopted every year, and its likely minimal cost.

5.   Reduction in impact on equality between men and women

  An important aim for parental leave is to progress equal opportunities for women. Inequality has a fundamental basis in the unequal division of domestic responsibilities including childcare in the home. Increasing men's involvement with their children through parental leave would help reduce this inequality, yet unpaid parental leave will reduce the potential for positive changes.

6.   The need for a universal right to paid parental leave

  The T&G believes that it is important that the right to take parental leave is underpinned by the right for the leave to be paid for all employees. The T&G supports the payment of parental leave on the same basis as Statutory Maternity Pay.

  Whilst recognising that the lowest paid are undoubtedly in the greatest need of payment, we would summarise the reasons for the right to paid leave being a universal right as follows:

    —  the majority of our members and most employees are not low-paid, but still do not have the means to take unpaid leave.

    —  continuing pay inequality between men and women means that a payment targeted on the low paid would not reach male employees. The potential value of parental leave as a means to encourage equal responsibility for childcare between mothers and fathers would not be maximised.

7.   Effect of flexibility of leave arrangements and pay on take-up

  The T&G believes that employees should have maximum flexibility in the way that parental leave is taken, such as taking the leave as days, weeks or in blocks of months, or on a reduced hours basis. Our experience shows that if parental leave remains unpaid, employees will be more likely to need to take leave in a more fragmented way than if it were paid.

May 1999

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