I haven’t agreed with some of the employment initiatives coming from this government recently (the whole rights for shares thing nearly made me combust) however, today Nick Clegg signalled the intention to make key changes to two areas; extending the right to flexible working to all and secondly allowing greater opportunities for the sharing of parental leave.
It didn’t take long for some people to both highlight the practical and legal issues that might arise. I have seen so far commentary on the impact on business, the pressure of the economic situation, administration challenges and the impact it might have on businesses hiring anyone in their 20s and 30s in case they take leave. Presumably therefore they are just refusing to hire women right now – so that’s alright then. Let’s face it, these tired arguments have been around for ever and always come out when changes are proposed to employment law. They said businesses couldn’t afford the Equal Pay Act, the National Minimum wage, etc, and the economy carried on regardless, so forgive me for not paying too much attention to them.
So, here’s why I wholeheartedly support the proposals. The notion, supported by current maternity and paternity leave arrangements, that only women can / want to stay at home with a baby is hideously limiting and fails to take a proper account of the role of the father in the family. It also does not recognise that the woman is the primary wage earner now in many families, and it may make more financial sense for the mother to return and the father take the leave. Are there many women who will really want to return to work after two weeks when they are breastfeeding? Maybe, or maybe not – but this is about giving them the choice which does not exist within the current maternity framework. Families will now get to decide what works for their individual circumstances.
With regard to flexible working, if I’ve read the speech correctly we are only talking about the right to request flexible working, and not as some media reports seem to have suggested, a right to receive. All that is happening therefore is an extension of the existing regulations from those with childcare and caring responsibilities. I’d argue that most enlightened employers do this anyway. The benefits of working flexibly are well documented, both to individuals and employers. It’s good for attracting and retaining talent, and is more aligned to the future of work. The sooner flexible working is seen as something that is potentially desirable to all, and not just an irritant process requested after maternity leave, the better.
The changes don’t appear to fit within the promise of a reduced burden of employment law that this government promised us. For once, I don’t care.
Nick Clegg didn’t give a definite time frame for introducing the changes. I don’t think they can come soon enough.