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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I was making the case for local authorities to show flexibility and generosity to employees who have responsibilities for children under the age of 16 and who during the course of their employment may be obliged to work on both a Saturday and a Sunday. Many Members of the Committee and of the House who are mothers and fathers will appreciate that up until children reach the age of 16 there is a special quality of life that one needs to experience and enjoynot only for the benefit of the parent but for the memories of the child. It is important that, if at all possible, there should be a mechanism under which a parent who is obliged to work on both a Saturday and a Sunday can turn to the law and say, "I am prepared to work on one day but not on both".
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, it is likely that there will not be very many employees in that situation. However, even if only one employee is being oppressed in this way, he or she should be able to seek the protection of the law. I hope that the Minister will give the amendment fair wind.
Baroness Blatch: I support the amendment. It is an unusual day when the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and I support the same side of an argument. I take enormous pleasure in doing so because I agree with everything the noble Lord said.
The amendment is eminently reasonable because it gives the parents of young children the right not to work. It does not state that they do not have to work at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, in recent times there has been a great deal of activity in government departments to promote family-friendly policies. However, Ministers have also stated recently that it is a good thing for mothers to go out to work and that their children do not suffer as a result. That is a debatable point. However, if parents make a genuine choice to go out to workor go out to work because of necessity, which sadly is so often the caseit is not a very tall order to ask that provision be made to give them a right in law not to be required to work, in the way set out in the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I may ask one or two questions. What consideration has the noble Lord given to the situation of "Saturday fathers"that is, parents who do not have the care and control of the child but have access only on a relatively infrequent basis, which very often is a Saturday? What thought has been given to the situation where an employee's day of religious observance is a Friday rather than a Saturday or Sunday?
A point has been made to me that many staff want the freedom to determine their own work schedules and welcome the possibility of fitting them around the availability of childcare, which may be greater at weekends. But, as I read it, the amendment is permissive and gives an employee the opportunity to say "no" rather than anything firmer.
The noble Baroness also raised an extremely important point in regard to "Saturday fathers". We do not want to make this matter too complicated initially; we merely wish to raise the issue. At a later stage in the Bill, after discussions with the Government, it may be appropriateif they are prepared to be sympatheticto refine the amendment.
As to the question of Friday observance, the point of opting for Saturday and Sunday is not that they are days of religious observance, but that they are the only days of the week when children are not in school.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: As has been said, the proposed new clause is similar to the one debated during the Report stage in the Commons. It seeks to ensure that no local authority employee or employee of a local authority company is required to work on both a Saturday and the immediately following Sunday if that person has the care and control of a school-age child. The proposed new clause also covers any adult with whom a school-age child customarily lives as part of his or her family and who has care and control of that child.
Within local government there will always be situations where people might need to work at weekends. In regular circumstances this would apply, for example, to residential homes where care needs to be provided on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week. In
The Government have a range of family-friendly policies, to which several noble Lords have referred. We have an extremely good track record in promoting family-friendly policies, and the amendment seeks, certainly in its intent, to add another layer to that. We want to ensure that there is a continued commitment to supporting working parents.
A whole raft of rights were launched on 6th April 2003 specifically for parents. These rights were provided through the Employment Act 2002. They include a new right for parents with children under six or disabled children under 18 to ask their employers for flexible working arrangements. The law places a duty on employers to consider such requests seriously and the Employment Act 2002 specifies the eight business grounds under which a request can be refused. These new rights aim to provide parents with more choice in when they work and how they manage their time.
We see no special local government case for making the provision sought by the amendment. Local authority workers have full general protection under existing employment law and are as fully protected as any other employee in any other sector. Moreover, local authorities are generally proactive in promoting flexible working.
Let me give some figures to illustrate that assertion. A DETR research report, Work-Life BalanceA Survey of Local Authorities, published in 2001, found that 94 per cent of authorities operate job sharing and 95 per cent flexitime; 98 per cent of authorities operate part-time working; 64 per cent of authorities provide more maternity pay than the law requires; in 91 per cent of local authorities senior managers work longer than standard hours, junior managers do so in 71 per cent of local authorities and manual workers do so in 42 per cent of local authorities; 75 per cent of authorities already operate out-of-hours successfully for at least one of their services. So the figures illustrate that flexibility and good practice is being followed.
We understand the spirit and the intent behind the amendment. Local authorities are very good at leading the way and have a good track record. I remember that when I became the leader of my local authority one of the first things we undertook to do was to provide adequate childcare facilities during the day for those who wanted to ensure that they had top-class professional childcare while they were at work. That enabled people to enter the workforce and to manage their time much better. We were very proud of that initiative. Local government in general has an extremely good track record in this regard and there are many good practice examples up and down the country.
We appreciate the intent behind the amendment. A great deal of excellent work is being undertaken and the Government have put in place measures to foster and encourage good practice in the way the noble Lord seeks through the amendment.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am fascinated by the long list of good practices carried out by local authorities. I completely accept and support them, but they fail to deal with the point raised in the amendment. If, within that range of good practices, easements and encouragements you still have a local authority which obliges a parent with responsibility for a child under 16 to work on a Saturday and a Sunday, that can negate all the other good provisions.
I do not know why the Minister is reluctant to be more sympathetic to the thrust of the amendment. It is all very well to say that these issues can be managed, but I have a list from the Keep Sunday Special Campaign which indicates the areas in which there could be problems. For example, the list refers to support staff in care homes; leisure centres, parks and swimming pool staff; street cleaning teams; refuse tip operators; staff in entertainment venues; and traffic wardens.
People in all those occupations can work in a team, with rosters, days off and so on. It should not be beyond the wit of a good manager of a team of, say, 20 people, to identify those with special needs. In a team of 20 there may be only one or two. The amendment seeks to enable a parent with special needs not to have to work on a Saturday and a Sunday in the same week.
It may be that good managers are already doing this and that the problem does not existI cannot quote any figures about the size of the problembut, if there are children who are failing to get the love, affection and bonding with a parent that a good relationship brings, we should ensure that it is possible for the parent to opt out of having to work on both days.
It is no big deal for anyone, especially for the Government. They are running a mile from legislating for a provision which will need to be policed and which, as a consequence, may be the subject of court cases, judgments, employment tribunals and so onbut it is worth it. It will demonstrate that making things work effectively is not the only criteria of the Government because, under the amendment, due regard will be paid to the bonding between parent and child at a very special time.
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