Photo: Paul Bradbury
We need family work rights that working families can actually use
Today is the International Day for Families, so it’s timely to think about the types of support that working families need to spend more time together.
As a starting point, it’s imperative that working parents don’t see their existing rights undermined following Brexit. EU employment law provides key safeguards for working parents including the right to time off to attend ante-natal appointments and the right to unpaid parental leave. The commitment given by Theresa May and political parties to protect and enhance worker rights post Brexit is welcome. However, it is important that existing EU employment rights are protected for the long term.
It is also vital that UK employment law keeps pace with new rights agreed in the EU in the future. Last month the EU Commission published proposals to improve the rights for working parents. These proposals would provide greater financial support for people who take parental leave, or take emergency time off to look after dependents, both of which are currently unpaid. Post Brexit the TUC believes workers in the UK should continue to benefit from the same protections as those enjoyed by workers in Germany, France and Ireland. We’re therefore calling on all political parties to ensure that a commitment to employment rights sits at the heart of any future partnership agreement between the UK and EU. Proposals for a Great Repeal Bill must also ensure that employment rights are protected and that future governments and parliaments cannot weaken rights using secondary legislation or Henry VIII style powers.
The TUC would like to see the next government go further and to implement policies which make it affordable for both mothers and fathers to take time away from the workplace to spend time with their families. The current statutory rates of pay are too low and deter parents from taking leave. The rate for maternity pay, paternity pay and shared parental pay is £140.98 per week, less than half the rate that someone working full time on the National Minimum Wage rate would earn.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have proposed introducing and extending periods of leave for working parents, but parents will need decent levels of statutory pay to make these viable options. It is also vital than any new rights for working parents, apply to all working parents, and not just those who are categorised as “employees”. Many working parents, such as those on zero-hours contracts, and agency workers lose out on rights such as paternity leave and the right to request flexible working. Recent TUC research highlights that 1.5m people miss out on family friendly rights due to the intermittent nature of their work.
We would also like to see a period of parental leave introduced that is reserved specifically for fathers. This would help reduce the “motherhood penalty” that afflicts so many mothers’ careers as well as help fathers spend more time with their children. There is evidence from other countries that when “use it or lose it” periods of leave for fathers are implemented, take up increases dramatically. For example, in Germany, take up of leave amongst fathers rose from 3.5% to 32% when a “use it or lose it” leave entitlement for fathers was introduced.
This goes to prove that improved employment rights can break down some of the workplace cultural barriers, which have prevented families from sharing caring responsibilities.