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Chamber calls for delay on family-friendly changes

Chamber calls for delay on family-friendly changes

Friday 08 March 2019

Chamber calls for delay on family-friendly changes

The island's key business lobby group has called for a delay on new 'family-friendly' legislation allowing all new parents 52 weeks of leave - with six paid at the normal rate - over concerns it could leave small businesses trading at a loss.

The Social Security Minister, Deputy Judy Martin, published a series of change to the Employment Law in an attempt to make workplaces around the island more 'family friendly,' which are due to be debated on 26 March.

The proposals form the second stage of improvements to giving families more employment rights. They follow changes introduced in September 2018 that saw parental leave extended to 26 weeks and paid maternity leave to six weeks, while paid parental leave and adoption leave were also introduced as well as time off for antenatal appointments for fathers and partners.

If States Members vote in favour of the latest set of proposed changes, there will be 52 weeks of parental leave for all parents, time off work to attend appointments for adoptive and surrogate parents and paid leave on health and safety grounds for pregnant and breastfeeding women. New mothers will also have the right to breaks to breastfeed or express breast milk.

But the Chamber of Commerce is concerned about the impact on employers and businesses.

Eliot Lincoln

Pictured: Eliot Lincoln, the Chamber President, warned of the "unintended consequences" of the proposals.

President Eliot Lincoln said that Chamber “wholeheartedly supports the desired principles” of the proposition, which would provide “significant benefit to employees and the wellbeing of parents and children and therefore to Jersey as a whole".

However, in a letter to all States Members, he has asked the Government to delay the proposition so that its impact can be assessed and solutions can be found to the issues.

“We request that … at least 12 months be allowed to pass following the changes made last year to fully assess the impact on employers, employees, job seekers, parents and the commercial impact on local businesses both large and small in supporting their employees in this way.”

The Chamber President highlighted that the Employment Forum recommendations on the Family Friendly Employment Rights were made in 2017, in what he described as “an economic environment very different to that faced by businesses in 2019”. He therefore suggested that further analysis is required to analyse the workings and effects of the changes introduced in September closer before any further changes are implemented.

office work

Pictured: Employers should be the only ones carrying the burden of the proposals by themselves.

Mr Lincoln said the proposals could have “unintended consequences” to businesses, with employers expected to carry the “burden” of providing benefits to new parents.

One of their main concerns is the cost to employers of funding cover for parents over a three-year period. Mr Lincoln said that employers are already struggling to fund longer paid period and that recruiting for cover, over a three-year period, in short blocks, will “challenge business further.”

He said that for smaller businesses it will “truly be a deciding factor for whether to trade at all,” while also eroding “small margins” or even tipping some businesses into “a loss-making position".

To avoid that, Mr Lincoln suggested the Government consider funding the proposals “from the public purse”, like in the UK where, under the Maternity Legislation, employers are able to seek funding from the government for up to 103% of these costs.

“Whilst the aims of these family-friendly laws are both admirable and desired, the consequences for many employers would be disastrous without meaningful funding support from Government,” Mr Eliot wrote.

He also said the Government needs “to align social security benefits with the move to creating equality”, explaining that employers should be able to claim a proportion of the six weeks paid leave, not only for women but also for  partners, surrogate or adoptive parents.

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