Thursday, March 17, 2011

Will the Budget exempt small firms from maternity and paternity leave provision?

Well, funnily enough, George Osborne doesn't confide in me, so I don't know.

The media is full of speculation that the Government is going to exempt small businesses from having to give certain maternity and paternity leave rights to their employees. I'm hoping that this will amount to nothing, a bit like the fevered hysteria that Child Benefit would stop at age 13 stuff that was doing the rounds before the last Budget.

There is no way that I could support any erosion of hard won rights. If we judge it appropriate that families should have the right to time off with their jobs being held open for them when they have a child,  then that should apply to all families, no matter who they work for.

As the Government wants to encourage more enterprise and channels resources into encouraging people to set up small businesses, this could affect more and more people. I've also thought of another
potential danger that could arise if businesses are allowed exemption from giving rights to their employees. Unemployed people are going to be forced pretty much to take whatever job comes their way. Will the Government consider a refusal on the grounds that they intend to have a family and only want a job where they would get parental leave justifiable? I expect not. I also imagine that unscrupulous employers would do whatever they could to get round having to give the rights, whether it be getting rid of workers so they had less than ten, or splitting their organisation into different legal entities each with ten or less employees.

The Government is already showing itself to be lukewarm on employees' rights with the idea of doubling the qualifying period before someone can take their employer to an industrial tribunal.  I fear that a diminution of parental rights could just be the tip of the iceberg - if small businesses get off with that, shouldn't they get off with paid annual leave, sick pay and the like? Should they be able to hire and fire at will?

I would be very surprised if Liberal Democrat ministers or MPs would allow that to happen, as the Parental leave stuff has been a key and long held interest of Nick Clegg. If it's right in principle and I believe it is, then I'm looking to him to ensure that it applies equally to everyone.

1 comment:

Richard Gadsden said...

If the Government wants to do something that would really help small employers to provide maternity provision, they could require insurance companies to sell maternity insurance at the same rate regardless of the age/sex distribution of employees.

Maternity should be an insurable risk for a small employer, so the years when no-one is on maternity leave pay for the ones when someone is.


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