Proposals to introduce year-long leave for new parents has been labelled “too extreme” by a group of politicians now calling to preserve the 26-week "status quo."
The comments came from the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel, which has been responsible for reviewing the long-awaited 'family-friendly' legislation.
In a report published this morning, the panel - chaired by Deputy Kirsten Morel and comprising Senator Kristina Moore and Deputies David Johnson and Jess Perchard - voiced concerns about a lack of research and forethought in the proposed legislation, spearheaded by Social Security Minister Deputy Judy Martin.
It comes following months of backlash from the business community to the plans and a withdrawal of the legislation by the Minister. The latest iteration, however, does not appear to have addressed all the issues it faces, as the Scrutiny Panel have submitted yet more amendments to the long-delayed plans.
Pictured: The legislation is being developed by Social Security Minister Deputy Judy Martin.
Their primary finding was that proposals to increase parental leave to 52 weeks (including six weeks’ paid leave) “is too extreme a move”, given the lack of sufficient consultation, research and consideration regarding the impact of this extended leave on employers.
Not only does the legislation extend the leave provision but it also aims to give both parents time off work to look after their families – rather than letting the burden of childcare fall to mums.
Although the panel said it was “fully supportive” of the principles of the ‘family-friendly’ law - namely “parental leave for all parents; unlimited attendance for antenatal care (up to ten hours paid); provisions for breastfeeding; paid absence on health and safety grounds” - they outlined a number of concerns regarding how the year-long leave for both parents would work in practice.
These concerns were largely attributed to an inadequate consultation process. The scrutineers open their suggested change to the legislation by saying: “The Panel found that the proposals put forward by the Minister were based on a consultation which was not as thorough as it should have been.
“It did not achieve a representative balance of responses, particularly from employers, and more work should have been carried out to assess the impact of the existing legislation before the extensions were developed.”
This follows outspoken criticism from Jersey’s main business lobby regarding the family-friendly legislation – hitting out at the Minister for a lack of consultation and not considering how local businesses will be impacted by the changes.
Pictured: The Chamber of Commerce has raised several concerns about the legislation.
The Panel suggest that rather than extending leave to 52 weeks for both parents, “maintain[ing] the status quo of 26 weeks’ leave” would be preferable.
“The Panel believes that proposing 52 weeks’ leave is too extreme a move by the Government, particularly as the proposal already doubles the number of people eligible to leave and the 52 weeks proposal would double again the burden on employers.”
The Panel also emphasise that “no analysis of the impact of the current rights” and limited research was undertaken by the Minister in drafting the law.
In giving their reasoning for maintaining the current leave of 26 weeks, the Panel point out that a Jersey Opinions and Lifestyle Survey in 2016 indicated “females took an average of 14 weeks’ unpaid leave and 15 weeks’ paid leave; and males took an average of 2 weeks’ unpaid leave and one week’s paid leave. The reasons preventing parents from taking more leave were split between financial reasons (52%), and length of leave limited by the employer (48%).”
It's noted in the report that at the time this survey was taken, leave was capped at 18 weeks for mothers and two weeks unpaid leave for anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child.
This was subsequently upped to 26 weeks in 2018.
Pictured: The Panel question what the uptake would be of the 52 weeks' leave when so much of it is unpaid.
Elaborating on their concerns about uptake and financial barriers to parents taking leave beyond the six weeks of paid leave, the Panel quote from a submission they received from the Jersey Child Care Trust.
In this, the trust highlights that “whilst Jersey is offering a longer period of leave to both parents, the paid element is still limited to just six weeks”.
They explain that the leave uptake in the UK is just 2% and they say it would be “an even lower uptake here".
“The reasons given for the low uptake in the UK are the cultural and financial barriers, which we think would be present here too – so will it really improve gender balance in childcare roles? Only for those families where the father can sacrifice their salary and faces no cultural barriers in taking extended periods of leave to care for their children.
“On the whole it’s a generous policy on paper but the reality for most families is that the financial barrier will be too great for them to benefit from the extended unpaid leave element. It would be fairer to see a statutory maternity/parental pay provision in place that could help extend the period of paid leave for parents beyond 6 weeks.”
In addition to this, the Panel argue that further analysis of the impact of the extended leave on businesses – especially amidst the uncertainty of Brexit – is required and that more thought should be given to how other employees will be affected by their colleagues taking blocks of such long leave.
They also move that those intending to take leave to look after their growing families should have to give 42 days’ notice to their employer rather than the 28 days proposed by the Minister.
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