Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Manufacturing Science Finance (PL 23)

  1.  MSF welcomes the new rights for working parents introduced by the Employment Rights Bill. It is clear that the Government is committed to creating fundamental change in the lives of working parents by introducing measures which will enable parents to balance their work and family responsibilities.

Paid Leave

  2.  MSF feels very strongly that the provision of parental leave on an unpaid basis will disenfranchise a great majority of working parents on average incomes who will not be able to afford to take advantage of the opportunity for time-off from paid work.

  3.  It is apparent in reviewing the operation of parental leave in other European Union states that parents only take parental leave when it is paid and promoted.

Fathers and parental leave

  4.  In order for the Government's particular commitment to encouraging fathers to take time-off to care for their children to be realised, parental leave must be paid. Fathers do not take low paid or unpaid leave.

  5.  There is an acute problem of very low take up rates for fathers in other European member states. In Europe, leave attracting no subsidies or low subsidies (eg Portugal, Spain, Germany and France) acts as an overwhelming disincentive to fathers to taking leave.

  6.  Conversely, leave paid on an earnings related basis encourages results in fathers taking leave, especially where it is promoted and paid at a high rate, as in Sweden.

  7.  MSF is very concerned that non-payment of parental leave will make a legal right for fathers to take leave redundant in practice. Where MSF has negotiated unpaid parental leave arrangements, take up is low to non-existent. To illustrate this, at the beginning of 1995 a nationally based finance sector company allowed fathers to take three months unpaid parental leave on top of a few days paid paternity leave around the time of birth. During the four years since its introduction, there has been no take up of the unpaid parental leave provision.

  8.  On the other hand, MSF's numerous agreements on negotiated paid paternity leave, ranging from 3 to 10 days' paid leave across all industrial sectors, are very popular with working fathers.

  9.  In relation to paid paternity leave, MSF is concerned that the introduction of new statutory right to unpaid parental leave will have a negative impact on the rising trend in paid paternity leave agreements, which rely entirely on employers' voluntary agreement.

Mothers and parental leave

  10.  Like working fathers, working mothers will not take advantage of this opportunity unless it is paid. A comparison needs to be made with working mothers' current rights to take unpaid maternity leave. Evidence shows that mothers do not take full advantage of their current right to take maternity absence on an unpaid basis.

  11.  The Department of Social Security Research Report no: 67 "Maternity Rights and Benefits in Britain" 1996 Claire Callender et al. revealed that 40 per cent of those women entitled to extended maternity absence (ie up to 29 weeks post birth) took 18 weeks or less.

  12.  Furthermore, the Report showed that only 11 per cent of employers provide any contractual improvements to statutory maternity leave provision.

  13.  In the light of this statistic, the Government cannot realistically expect employers to make contractual improvements to statutory parental provision.

  14.  These statistics confirm those in the "Formal Response of the Equal Opportunities Commission to the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill" 1993 which showed that women took a median of 20 weeks for their first child and 18 weeks leave for subsequent children.

  15.  As Statutory Maternity Pay covers an 18 week period—at 90 per cent of earnings for 6 weeks and at a low flat rate for the remaining 12 weeks—it is clear that working mothers maternity leave coincides with and does not extend their paid period.

  16.  In comparison with what is already on offer to working mothers in terms of unpaid leave, it is highly unlikely that mothers will take an additional period of unpaid leave.

  17.  And unless paid, disabled parents, lone parents, and low paid workers will not be able to take parental leave.

An integrated approach

  18.  On a related point, the Government needs to adopt an integrated approach to the relationship between maternity leave and parental leave, and paternity leave and parental leave.

  19.  For instance, paid or unpaid, consideration will have to be given to how parental leave relates to maternity leave which itself is split into paid and unpaid periods, and to paternity leave which, where offered, is either a contractual or discretionary right over a few days.

Promotion and monitoring

  20.  The second issue that MSF believes should be addressed relates to the promotion and monitoring of parental leave. It is clear that the Labour Government are key drivers of cultural, social and family change. The family-friendly measures add to existing Government initiatives on national childcare provision, the minimum wage, and anti-discrimination measures for part-time workers.

  21.  MSF is concerned that a real balance between work and family responsibilities, involving employers, and working mothers and fathers will not be achieved without a strategy to positively promote both the new rights, new expectations and the new culture.

  22.  Furthermore the implementation and the take up of parental leave needs to be closely and effectively monitored by the Government, (eg via a Family Commission or Unit), so that changes can be made where necessary to ensure its take up.

In conclusion

    —  to ensure take up by working mothers and fathers, parental leave should be paid on an earnings linked basis so that the loss in pay is minimised (eg earnings related SMP equivalent);

    —  a parental leave subsidy introduced, at an amount not less than that provided for flat rate Statutory Maternity Pay, would only encourage take up by working mothers and fathers if employers were obliged to top it up;

    —  an integrated approach needs to be adopted in its implementation so that there is consistency and clarity between maternity leave and parental leave and paternity leave and parental leave;

    —  it should be effectively promoted and monitored by the Government;

    —  it must be measurable against outcomes relating to targets or objectives in take-up rates, flexibility in implementation, and best practice.

An MSF Profile

  MSF was formed in 1988, the result of a merger between ASTMS and TASS.

  MSF is one of the largest trade unions in the country. MSF members are employed in all sectors of British industry and services—in high-tech manufacturing; the health service; universities; the finance sector; and the voluntary sector.

  MSF represents more than 400,000 skilled and professional people. Women represent 31 per cent of our membership base.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 2 November 1999