Over the last 10 years successive governments have introduced a wide range of measures aimed at helping working parents to balance their employment with family and caring responsibilities. Most recently, the Children and Families Act 2014, which became law on 13 March 2014, introduced further improvements to the rights of working parents. New changes which have come into effect, or will in the near future, include the right to request flexible working for all employees, shared parental leave, partners entitled to take time off for up to two antenatal appointments and adoption leave for couples intending to adopt.
These changes have been driven by the increasing numbers of working parents in employment and the need to retain their skills, as well as a more general demand for a better balance between work and home life. This reflects the dramatic rise over the past 25 years of the number of families where both parents work.
Recent research from the TUC found the UK ranking last in Europe when it comes to giving new parents “well-paid” leave following the birth of their child. Under the official European definition, “well-paid” means someone getting at least two-thirds of their pre-maternity leave earnings, or a rate of pay greater than £840 (€1,000) per month.
In the UK new mothers get just six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90% of their wage. The European average for well-paid leave for new mothers is 43 weeks.
Mothers in Britain are also entitled to an additional 33 weeks’ pay but only at £138 per week — a rate which has fallen in real terms under this government. And in the UK only about one in four women receive extra occupational maternity pay from their employers.
Similarly, the analysis says that there is not much support available to new fathers in the UK.
In total, the UK offers up to 41 weeks of paid leave to new parents, but this is the fifth lowest in Europe and less than half of the European average of 89 weeks.
The analysis also found that only one in four women in the UK receive additional occupational maternity pay from their employers.
Commenting on the findings TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unfortunately, when it comes to supporting parents looking after a new baby, the UK is the Scrooge of Europe. Countries across Europe are incredibly diverse, especially in the challenges they face, yet all of them have found better ways to offer better support for new parents. A modest way to turn this around would be for the government to give new fathers six weeks of well-paid leave. Without a properly paid system of shared parental leave, women will continue to be forced to put their careers on hold as they continue to be primary carers in their child’s all-important first year.”
Many employees, particularly those in workplaces with recognised trade unions, will already benefit from rights to occupational maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay that are better than the statutory schemes, and the introduction of the new rights introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 provides union reps with the opportunity to collectively bargain on new rights and try to improve upon the existing provisions.
This booklet explains the new legal rights for parents and provides examples of negotiated agreements to assist reps in bargaining for improvements.
There are specific Chapters covering maternity rights, shared parental leave, paternity leave, adoption and surrogacy leave and pay, parental leave, time off for dependants, flexible working and health and safety of new and expectant mothers. Also covered is the right to breastfeed, getting leave for fertility treatment, time off for antenatal appointments, adoption appointments and family emergencies.
Key changes under the Children and Families Act 2014:
• all employees can apply to work flexibly;
• new right to shared parental leave;
• new right for partners to take time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments;
• new rights for those intending to adopt, bringing adoption rights and pay in line with those who have biological children.