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£6m bill for parental leave reform "not sufficiently thought through"

£6m bill for parental leave reform

Tuesday 04 June 2019

£6m bill for parental leave reform "not sufficiently thought through"


A review into proposals for family-friendly employment rights has found that they were not “sufficiently thought through” and that not enough employers were consulted, leaving a Panel of politicians calling for them to be withdrawn.

The proposals put forward by the Minister for Social Security, Deputy Judy Martin, include 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.

Together, these form the second stage of improvements to giving families more employment rights. Last September, parental leave was 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.

But the Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel – chaired by Deputy Kirsten Morel – has blasted the proposals saying they were neither “well-researched, evidence-based, inclusive, nor appropriate to the needs of the island.”

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Pictured: The proposals were put forward by the Minister for Social Security, Deputy Judy Martin.

Their review found that the proposals were developed without “appropriate strategic policy aims” and “in isolation.” The Panel said they were “very concerned that so little attention has been paid to the cumulative effect of regulation on those trying to operate in Jersey.”

In addition, the Panel found that the only consultation done had been “flawed’ because it failed to engage with a “fully representative sample of stakeholders” and the assessment of the impact had not been as “thorough” as it should have been.

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Pictured: A breakdown of the respondents who took part in the consultation. 

The consultation received just over 300 answers, a majority of which came from employees and their representatives. Only 27 employers replied and the Forum was unable to confirm the types of organisations they represent.

The Panel said that although an independent body, the Employment Forum could have advertised the consultation using its own database to ensure that it captured “the full range of stakeholders affected.”

Likewise, they suggested that the Customer and Local Services Department – which holds details of every employer (and employee) in the island – could have played a role in ensuring the consultation reached enough people.

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Pictured: The Panel estimated  the total cost to business of new and existing parental leave provision at approximately £6.4 million.

The Panel also found that no calculations were undertaken in order to ensure that businesses would be able to afford six weeks full pay, which they deemed “concerning” as a proportion of businesses would find it financially difficult.

Using the figure of 850 - 950 babies born each year and the median weekly earnings, the Panel estimated the total cost to business of new and existing parental leave provision at approximately £6.4 million.

In his foreword, Deputy Morel wrote that the review also uncovered a number of issues. Those included the effect on employers - particularly small and third sector organisations - the risk of creating greater social inequality between wealthy families who can afford unpaid leave and those who can’t, increased costs of doing business, the transferability of parental leave between employers and the liability of recruitment agencies. 

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Pictured: Deputy Kirsten Morel, Chairman of the Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel.

The Panel also noted that the proposals could lead larger employers – who offer more generous maternity benefit schemes - to reduce those to the minimum statutory level in order to provide equal levels of parental leave and avoid accusations of discrimination. 

“The fact that, on the eve of debate, they remain concerns, points to the conclusion that the parental leave aspects of the law have not been sufficiently thought through,” Deputy Morel wrote.

While the Panel said they supported the provisions relating to breastfeeding and ante-natal appointments – as they could play an “important role” in changing attitudes to breastfeeding and supporting mothers who wish to work whilst continuing to breastfeed – they urged the Minister to withdraw the element of the proposed law relating to parental leave.

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Pictured: The Panel said that provisions relating to breastfeeding and ante-natal appointments could play an “important role” in changing attitudes to breastfeeding.

They also called for the Minister to “start again” with “clear policy aims and a robust consultation process before bringing new parental leave provisions to the States Assembly.”

In the event that the Minister refuses to withdraw Article 4, the Panel has lodged a number of amendments to the draft Law, including one calling for the article to be removed from the proposition. The proposals are due to be debated on 18 June.

The Panel concluded: “There are many benefits to introducing effective legislation which makes it easier for employees to balance family and work obligations. But with any legislative change, the proposals have to work well for all parties concerned and must be based on informed thinking.”

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