Parental work deal provokes controversy

Government proposals to change the way parents are treated at work have received a mixed response, amid fears they could place new financial burdens on small companies.

The Design Business Association has welcomed Government plans to increase maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks and allow employees of both sexes up to three months’ unpaid parental leave. But it concedes vulnerable design groups could be put in financial peril by such obligations.

“Most design groups give the bare minimum maternity leave,” says DBA chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill, “and so most of them will be financially affected by the increase in provision they will be required to give.

“In some cases, the extra costs could send a consultancy over the cliff financially, but only in very rare cases. However, I welcome anything that encourages best practice in the design industry, and I welcome this.”

Meanwhile, Institute of Directors business policy executive Richard Wilson says the proposals are bad news for small businesses. He says one proposal – requiring a company of 20 or more employees to join a trade union, if the majority of staff want it – could prove particularly damaging to small businesses.

The changes form part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Employment Relations Bill which also proposes to let women take maternity leave after one year in a job, instead of two. The DTI aims to establish “decent” minimum standards for employees, with emphasis on family care.

Wilson adds that measures to allow three months’ unpaid parental leave are largely redundant, because most people couldn’t afford the time off anyway.

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