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The Government has recently launched a consultation over how the system for shared parental leave and pay will work.

The consultation will look at how the new system will work and fit together with current arrangements for maternity and paternity leave and adopters, as part of the Government’s commitment to create a modern workplace.

This will influence how the Government legislates under the Children and Families Bill 2013, introduced earlier in the year, which includes the proposals for shared parental leave and flexible working.

Business Minister Jo Swinson said:

“Current workplace arrangements for maternity leave are old-fashioned and rigid. Our measures for shared parental leave and flexible working give us a great opportunity to make our workforce even more flexible, help working families and boost economic growth.

“Crucially, these proposals will drive a real cultural shift and help working dads play a greater role in their child’s early months. We want to shatter the perception that it is mainly a woman’s role to stay at home and look after the child, and also that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers. Employers too can gain from a system which allows them keep talented women in the workforce and have more motivated and productive staff.”

The Government has announced new proposals to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, to give greater choice and freedom to workers and businesses.

This will remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers, allowing individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments and improving the UK labour market by providing more diverse working patterns.

The Government will also remove the current statutory procedure for considering requests. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. Businesses will have the flexibility to refuse requests on business grounds but the new laws are expected to bring benefits to employers as well.

In addition, the Government has announced a new system of flexible parental leave, which will allow parents to be able to choose how they share care of their child in the first year after birth. Employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. However, working parents will be able to opt to share the leave.

The Government plan to legislate on this next year and will introduce the changes to flexible working in 2014 and to flexible parental leave in 2015.

A consultation setting out plans for a new employment status called an ‘employee owner’ has been published by the Government.

Under the scheme, employee owners will have a different set of employment rights and they will be given shares in the company of between £2,000 and £50,000. The employment rights affected are:

  • unfair dismissal rights (apart from automatically unfair reasons and where dismissal is based on discriminatory grounds),
  • rights to redundancy pay,
  • certain statutory rights to request training,
  • the statutory right to request flexible working, and
  • employee owners will have to give more notice to their employer of their intention to return from maternity or adoption leave early.

An employer will be able to choose the new status and still choose to offer more rights to their staff (e.g. the right to request flexible working or higher levels of contractual redundancy pay).

Legislation to bring in the new employee owner contract will be introduced via the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, with the aim of companies being able to offer the new type of contract from April 2013.

Plans for a new kind of employment contract called an ‘employee-owner’ were announced at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this week.

The scheme will involve the new employee-owners exchanging some of their UK employment rights for rights of ownership in the form of shares in the business they work for. Any gains earned on these shares will then be exempt from capital gains tax.

The Government is going to consult on the new contract later in the month, but in very general terms it will see employees given between £2,000 and £50,000 of shares that are exempt from capital gains tax. In exchange, they will give up their UK rights on unfair dismissal, redundancy, and the right to request flexible working and time off for training, and will be required to provide 16 weeks’ notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave, instead of the usual eight.

The Government plans to draft legislation to bring in the new employee-owner contract later this year so that companies can use the new type of contract from April 2013. 

The CBI has published its analysis of the impact of the Agency Workers Regulations (AWRs) a year after they came into force, in which it describes the regulations as a 'drag on job creation in this vital sector.'

The CBI has identified a number of priorities for the upcoming Government review of the regulations, which include:

  • Streamlining the highly complex definition of pay to allow for easier comparison.
  • Simplifying the 12-week qualification period so that those on short-term assignments aren’t needlessly caught up in the regulations.
  • Removing gold-plating where the regulations specifically go beyond that required by the directive and UK implementation agreement.
  • Stripping out the perverse incentive in the regulations to lodge opportunistic tribunal claims.

Key statistics about the agency sector in the UK include:

  • CBI research has shown that 57% of firms that use temps have reduced their use as a result of the regulations, 3% have increased their use, while 8% have stopped using temps all together.
  • TEAM research found that 38% of agencies reported a decline in assignments as a result of the regulations, and 18% reported an increase.
  • The same survey found that 62% of agencies reported a negative experience of the regulations.
  • BIS research prior to the implementation of the regulations showed that agency workers received, on average, 96% of the pay of comparable employees.

The European Commission has agreed to give European social partners more time to complete their negotiations over reviewing the Working Time Directive.

László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion said: "The social partners have my best wishes for a successful outcome to their talks on these very important issues. The Commission is willing to provide any support the social partners would find helpful in the context of these negotiations.''

The Commission consulted the European social partners during 2010 about possible changes to the Working Time Directive in order to update EU working time rules. The changes were felt necessary to take account of profound changes in the world of work and to better meet the needs of employers and workers in the 21st century.

The procedure for negotiations is provided in Articles 154 and 155 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the EU). The social partners have nine months for their negotiations, but the period can be extended, if the employers' side, the workers' side and the Commission jointly decide to do so. In the case of the Working Time Directive, the social partners' negotiations began in early December 2011 and will now continue, under the extension of time just agreed, up to 31st December 2012.

The Working Time Directive entitles workers in all Member States to a number of rights with regards to their hours of work, including:

  • a limit to weekly working time, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime,
  • paid annual leave, of at least four weeks per year, and
  • extra protection in the case of night work

There is scope for a certain degree of flexibility within these rules.

According to a recent poll, two out of five professionals (39%) will not be relaxing properly this summer, but trying to fit in up to three hours’ work each day on their ‘workation’ instead of relaxing by the pool or spending time with their families and friends.

The survey, conducted by Regus, the global workspace provider, also found that amongst those who just can’t switch off are a hard-core minority of serious workaholics: almost one in ten (8%) will work over three hours a day on holiday.

Not only are UK professionals taking too much work on holiday, but far too many will be glued to their smartphones and netbooks, with 25% declaring that they will be operating on a slightly reduced ‘business as usual’ from the sunbed.

Dr Katherine Rake, Chief Executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said: “Developments in technology such as wifi and smartphones have placed the UK on the cusp of a flexible working revolution, allowing people to work at a time and location which best suits their personal and family needs. But this technological change also means it’s now all too easy, and all too tempting, to allow work to encroach on a precious family holiday.

“Employers need to support staff to truly switch off while they are on leave. Bosses must introduce company policies banning themselves and other staff from contacting those taking time off. If they can pledge to save the summer holiday in this way, they will be rewarded with more productive workers returning to the office. They will also be helping to defend family life.”

The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) has commented on the latest European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that workers who become ill when taking annual leave have the right to reclaim additional paid time off later.

The Court ruling specified that “The purpose of entitlement to paid annual leave is to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure. The purpose of entitlement to sick leave is different, since it enables a worker to recover from an illness that has caused him to be unfit for work.

“A worker is entitled to take paid annual leave which coincides with a period of sick leave at a later point in time, irrespective of the point at which the incapacity for work arose.”

Karen Thomson, Associate Director of Policy, Research and Strategic Visibility at the CIPP, said: “This is yet another case where the interaction of annual leave and sick leave is the issue. The issue of taking holiday whilst on sick leave and sick leave whilst on holiday are still unresolved under the Working Time Regulations.

“The CIPP is disappointed to see that once again the EU feels it necessary to legislate for sickness during holidays. Whether an employer allows an employee to reclaim holiday if sick during their leave is a matter to be dealt with between the employer and the employee; not the EU or the UK Government.”

In advance of announcements on legislative change to maternity and paternity leave, a new study for Working Families and Netmums has found overwhelming opposition to plans to reduce maternity leave to 18 weeks.

The Government has proposed in its Modern Workplaces consultation that maternity leave be reduced to 18 weeks, and the remaining leave currently available to women becomes “flexible parental leave” available to either parent.

Netmums surveyed 1,500 mothers and found that:

  • Around 60% said they would find it hard to ask their employers for additional maternity leave after 18 weeks, with 24% of these saying their employer would have made it clear that they wanted them back at that time.
  • Around 17% said they would be keen to take advantage of the provision allowing their partners to take “shared leave”. However, 28% said their partner might want to but it wouldn’t happen in practice; while a further 41% said the family could not afford for the father to take the time off.

Netmums founder Sally Russell said: ”Women are very strongly saying that 18 weeks of maternity leave is not enough. It is possible to have a system that works for mums and dads but this isn’t it.

”The findings show that an 18 week limit may well push women out of employment and the result will be the opposite of what the Government are trying to achieve”

Working Families also asked eleven leading employers what they thought of the 18 week maternity leave proposal. Nine of the eleven said they’d prefer a default of 26 weeks’ maternity leave to the 18 week proposal. Employers concerns included likely higher absenteeism among women returning before they were ready, costs of rearranging leave cover if plans change, and the importance of retaining women’s workplace talent.

A recent study by the International Labour Office (ILO) has found that the current financial crisis has led to a significant increase in workplace inequality across Europe. 

The study, 'Work Inequalities in the Crisis: Evidence from Europe' analyses how workplace issues, such as working conditions, wages and incomes, employment and gender equality have been deteriorating across the continent since the start of the crisis.

“The central message of this volume can be summarized in simple terms: not only did work inequalities contribute to generating the economic crisis, but these inequalities have even become worse as a result of it”, says Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, the ILO’s Special adviser, and editor of the book.“Our general economic system will thus continue to be at risk until we properly address this critical issue.”

Key findings of the study include:

  • Wage differentials between the top and the bottom earners increased in countries like Bulgaria, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
  • Young people are experiencing unemployment rates nearly double those among older workers in the majority of European countries.
  • Despite male workers being initially more affected by the crisis than women, discriminatory practices against female workers have worsened over the past years.
  • Women employed in male-dominated sectors were the first to be dismissed or experienced higher wage cuts than men.

In its response to a government call for evidence on TUPE, the TUC warns that changing current legislation could also lead to an increased involvement of the private sector in public services, with contractors competing for business on lower wages rather than on the quality of the service they provide.

TUPE protects employees' terms and conditions of work when a business is transferred from one owner to another. Staff automatically become employees of the new employer on the same terms and conditions as they were on before, and their continuity of service is also protected.

The TUC argues that TUPE regulations also benefit employers by creating a level-playing field for businesses and enabling restructuring to take place more easily and without disputes.

The government is considering increasing the flexibility for employers to cut pay and conditions after a transfer takes place. This could lead to a race to the bottom, warns the TUC, with companies using low wages to compete for contracts in the public and private sector, rather than by quality of service, efficiency or innovation.

Current TUPE regulations also maintain employment levels, as new employers must retain original staff when they take over a business, argues the TUC. Cutting back on this vital right means employees could lose their jobs when the owner of their company changes, which would increase unemployment and reliance on welfare benefits.

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