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Most employers anticipate difficulties coping with new rights for workers with family responsibilities

November 24 2006 - A new survey by CIPD/KPMG finds that many employers believe that the implementation of new legal rights for working mothers and fathers will cause them difficulty. The implementation of the Work and Families Act (WFA) 2006 from April 2007 will increase the period of maternity and adoption pay from six to nine months and extend the right to request flexible working to carers of adults. The legislation also enables the Government to introduce a new right of up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave - some of which could be paid if the mother returns to work - and the further extension of maternity pay to 12 months.

The survey found that only about one in ten employers thought that any of the provisions of the WFA 2006 would be beneficial to their organizations. Smaller employers were more likely to cite potential difficulties and less likely to see potential benefits.

Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of employers surveyed thought that the new paternity leave provisions will cause either some (48 per cent) or significant (16 per cent) difficulties while 57 per cent thought the maternity and adoption pay provisions will cause difficulties.

The survey found more positive attitudes towards extending the right to request flexible working. Only 4 per cent of employers thought that the new right for carers to request flexible working will cause significant difficulties; 36 per cent expect this to cause some difficulty. However, 35 per cent were strongly in favour of extending the right to all employees; only 13 per cent were strongly against.

Just over half (51 per cent) of employers surveyed considered themselves either well prepared (36 per cent) or very well prepared (15 per cent) to implement the provisions of the WFA 2006. Just 7 per cent considered themselves to be poorly prepared.

Mike Emmott, CIPD adviser, employee relations, said:

"These results do not necessarily indicate hostility to the Work and Families Act. Most good employers recognize the importance of work-life balance and, as the CIPD/KPMG survey shows, many already offer more than what is provided for in the WFA 2006.

"However, it is clear from the survey that there is evident scepticism about some of the WFA provisions, especially those relating to paternity leave, and concern about the difficulties that might arise in meeting them. It is possible that such reservations simply reflect the caution with which employers tend to embrace any new regulations. But the Government needs to reassure employers about the administration of the new provisions.

"The new rights for fathers won't be introduced until 2008 at the earliest, but it is important for the Government to use the intervening time to ensure that the provisions will help workers with families without making life more difficult for those who employ them. Until they know how the new arrangements will work, employers will be understandably worried about the likely complexity of, in effect, transferring statutory leave and pay from mothers to fathers."

Rachel Campbell, head of people management, KPMG, commented:

"For KPMG, the business cases for diversity and flexible working are compelling. Organizations are aiming to attract the very best talent in the marketplace from the widest talent pool. To be successful we recognise the need to truly embrace flexible working whilst balancing this with the needs of our clients. It is not sufficient to merely have it 'on offer' and it not credible for it to be labelled as something only relevant to women.

"We have been able to support 12 per cent of our employees undertaking some form of flexible working and 25 per cent of those taking up the options are men. The Working Families Act provides additional statutory support for the choices that carers and fathers face in this respect and we believe that implementation of the changes is in line with our strategy for being a first choice employer for our people."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented:

"Employers have nothing to fear from these modest proposals and much to gain. Any move that enables working fathers to play a greater role in that first important year of their children's lives should be welcomed. Apart from the fact that the sharing of maternity leave proposals are not due to come into force until at least 2008, these changes will be beneficial, not detrimental to employers.

"The need to have a greater work-life balance is becoming more and more important for many employees. The changes will allow working fathers to appreciate the extra time they are able to spend at home getting involved in the sharing of childcare. As a result they are likely to return to work with a much greater sense of work-life balance and a renewed commitment to their jobs."


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