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Family-friendly: Backbenchers defend small businesses

Family-friendly: Backbenchers defend small businesses

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Family-friendly: Backbenchers defend small businesses


Three politicians are readying themselves to fight the corner of small businesses in tomorrow's debate on the long-awaited 'family friendly' law promising up to a year of leave for working parents.

The backbenchers – Deputies Steve Luce, Rowland Huelin and Constable John Le Bailly – have all added their voices to concerns raised by the business community over the plans being brought before the States Assembly at tomorrow's meeting.

The Social Security Minister's 'family friendly' law intends to make the world of work more practical for new parents or those who are growing their families by increasing leave entitlements for mothers and fathers to up to 52 weeks – although the paid element of this leave will remain at six weeks.

It also increases the rights of surrogate and adoptive parents as well as making breastfeeding breaks and facilities a legal right for employees.

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Pictured: The law creates enhanced breastfeeding rights.

Begun by former Social Security Minister Deputy Susie Pinel and taken over by her successor Deputy Judy Martin, the legislation has undergone several iterations after it was withdrawn and reworked earlier this year.

Following months of  backlash from the island’s main business lobby group, the legislation is heading for debate in the States Chamber today – but the Minister’s draft law is still drawing criticism from the Chamber of Commerce and her fellow States Members.

These further amendments add to the challenge brought by the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel in their recent report who, despite agreeing fully with the principles of the legislation, argue that extending unpaid leave to 52 weeks’ is “too extreme” and that a more gradual approach is needed to ensure uptake of the enhanced rights.

In addition to the amendment brought by the Scrutiny Panel, Deputy Luce has brought his own changes to the legislation in which he suggests using the GST register to identify the smaller businesses which should be exempt from these increased rights under the Social Security Minister’s draft law. 

Deputy Luce states in his amendment: “It is clear to me that the consequential effects of this draft Law could well be more than these very small businesses could cope with. Finding replacement staff to cover extended periods of parental leave will be almost impossible, and the pressure and stress on those few left fighting to keep their business afloat is a position I know the majority in this Assembly would not wish to burden them with.” 

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Pictured: The amendments try to balance the rights of a family as well as those of small businesses.

Deputy Huelin has also brought an amendment which suggests a mandatory 15 months’ employment before someone is entitled to the increased rights of parental leave. 

He reasons: “It is entirely possible that a new employee could start a new job at 09:00 on a Monday, and announce at lunchtime that they, or their partner, is pregnant. This could easily be unintentional, not necessarily the pregnancy, but the discovery.

“The result of this is the employer could lose 52 weeks of the next 2 years, pay 6 weeks of maternity/ paternity leave (plus holiday pay for 2 years, and bank holiday pay) for what has been half a day’s work.”

Constable Le Bailly argues that the exemption for small businesses should apply to those employing five people or less. For these companies, the Constable says that only the birth mother should get 26 weeks’ leave; the employer shouldn’t pay anything to cover the six weeks’ paid element; and the father or partner of the birth mother shouldn’t receive any payment or leave. 

The Council of Ministers has published their own amendment expressing support for most of the Economic Affairs’ suggested changes, except maintaining the status quo of 26 weeks’ leave for parents rather than extending it to 52 weeks as proposed by the Minister.

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Pictured: The law is due to be debated in the Assembly tomorrow.

Deputy Louise Doublet also brought an amendment back in June to secure a review of the impact of the family-friendly law on businesses two years after it has been implemented, if passed by the Assembly this week.

However, this suggestion has not been favoured by the Chamber of Commerce. Of the Deputy’s amendment, Vice-President John Shenton said: “The Deputy wishes to bring in a law, knowing it will cause problems for some businesses, and wants the impact assessment to be done one year after it has caused the damage. Surely that is the wrong way around. The Deputy has suggested that Government could assist businesses that struggled with the law, but with no details of what this means or how it might operate it is simply meaningless.”

Elsewhere in their comments, the business lobby – which has been fiercely critical of the legislation throughout the drafting process, has maintained its stance in “urging States Members to heed the warning of small businesses” ahead of the debate. 

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Pictured: Jersey's business lobby has been critical of the Minister's legislation throughout the drafting process.

Chamber President Jennifer Carnegie said: “The Scrutiny process has rightly identified the burden that will be placed on businesses, particularly the many small businesses in Jersey, who are already finding recruitment a real issue and are bracing themselves for additional Brexit related costs.  

“Like Chamber, most employers want to support Family Friendly initiatives, but they must be realistic and achievable, if they force people out of business nobody benefits. Our States members must exercise caution and introduce changes in the sensible smaller steps suggested by the Scrutiny Panel and review these in a year, rather than bring impractical laws in and push some businesses over the edge.”

She added: “It is clear from many of our members and the various amendments lodged by States Members, there is widespread concern for small businesses. Chamber is supportive of extending the notice period to varying parental leave from 28 days to 42 days to allow businesses to better prepare for the possibility of recruiting cover and in also assisting those  smaller businesses who would  be hit the hardest by some of the changes.”

READ MORE...

Minister brings proposals to change employment law for working parents
Chamber warns "family friendly" changes could close small businesses
Businesses call for delay on working parents law
Minister backtracks after business backlash
Minister's changes "not enough"
Deputy Martin forced to take proposals off the table
Scrutineers dub year-long leave "too extreme"

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