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New Employment Bill introduced

8 November 2001 - The Government claims that its new Employment Bill is aimed at delivering a balanced package of support for working parents and, at the same time, reducing red tape for employers and simplifying the process for settling disputes in the workplace.

The bill provides for:

- 6 months paid and a further 6 months unpaid maternity leave for working mothers;

- 2 weeks paid paternity leave for working fathers;

- 6 months paid and an extra 6 months unpaid leave for working adoptive parents;

- a total increase of over 60% in the rate of statutory maternity pay, taking it up from 62 to 100;

- reimbursement of maternity, paternity and adoption payments made by employers, with small employers being able to recover 100% with an additional compensation payment on top.

The measures should come into effect from April 2003,benefiting 350,000 new mothers and 450,000 new fathers in work per year.

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said:

" This Government is committed to delivering for working families and to simplifying regulation for business. This package is good for British business and it is good for the people who work in business.

" From April 2003, these new measures announced today will help hundreds of thousands of working parents find a better balance between their work and their family - especially when a new baby arrives.

" Creating simple maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay rules will cut red tape, especially for small firms, and help employers plan ahead with more certainty. Firms will now be able to claim back these payments before leave is taken - a particular bonus for small firms.

" Overall this is a winning ticket - delivering for individuals, business and the economy and helping create a modern, productive workplace fit for the 21stcentury. "

Theo Blackwell, Industrial Society policy specialist, said:

"This is a move in the right direction for parents. As employers come to believe that family friendly policies are a business asset rather than a liability, the government could be persuaded to go further. The real test will come with the publication of the Bain Commission on flexible working rights. If the Government is serious about helping working parents, then it must give mothers and fathers the clear right to request flexible working."

Employers and employees will be given help to resolve their disputes within their organisations and the Bill also includes proposals to 'modernise' the employment tribunal system. These include:

- new ways of dealing with disputes in the workplace with requirements for employees to raise their grievances with employers before they apply to a tribunal;

- changes to the way in which tribunals calculate awards aimed at supporting discussion in the workplace;

- a fixed conciliation period to promote the timely settlement of disputes;

- a fast track system and also other measures to 'modernise' employment tribunals.

Newspaper reports that proposals to charge applicants for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal will be dropped were confirmed - the Government announced that it would not be taking these forward.

On the Government's proposals to encourage dispute resolution and reform the Employment Tribunal System, Patricia Hewitt said:

"The Government wants to raise standards of dispute management to help resolve problems as they arise in the workplace.

"Many disagreements can be successfully resolved through better communication and procedures between an individual and an employer.

"Our changes on dispute resolution will encourage better dialogue between employees and employers and create better awareness of rights and responsibilities in the workplace.

"These measures will benefit both business and individuals, reduce the strain on the employment tribunal system and help create modern dispute resolution procedures for those who need them."

Proposed changes are to be implemented when a full programme of advice and guidance to business (especially small businesses) and to individuals is up and running. ACAS and the Small Business Service will have key roles in this process.

The Bill also includes provisions to:

- give union learning representatives the right to time off for carrying out their duties;

- introduce questionnaires to inform equal pay cases;

- the introduction of work focused interviews for partners of people receiving working age benefits and;

- enable the Secretary of State to make regulations preventing less favourable treatment of fixed term employees.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Alistair Darling said:

"This Bill is another key step in reforming the welfare state. It paves the way for a culture where those who are able to work can do so knowing that they are supported in balancing their work with family commitments.

"That is why we are offering more support to mothers and mothers-to-be when they take time off to have children - with the biggest ever increase in the rate of payment to women on maternity leave as well as extending the period of paid leave to help women stay off work longer if they want to.

"This will complement the measures for fathers and adoptive parents to ensure that all families get the support they deserve."

On partners of working age benefit claimants, Mr Darling said:

"They will receive the same tailored personal adviser service as benefit recipients, helping them make the most of the wide-ranging opportunities available to them."

Yvonne Bennion, policy specialist at The Industrial Society said:

"The Industrial Society welcomes the emphasis on resolving disputes in the workplace, but is concerned that the proposals for a minimal grievance procedure will fall short of ACAS recommended best practice and lead to new delays in the tribunal process.

"We fear that shortening the discipline procedure could give the impression that employees can be dismissed without a thorough prior investigation of the circumstances. There is a danger that a myth could develop amongst employers that they are protected in law when the they sack someone summarily without finding out what has really happened.

"We are very pleased that the Government has abandoned some unworkable proposals in its consultation paper, including fees for applications and tribunal hearings, removing ACAS conciliation from fast track claims and bringing in non-ACAS conciliators.

"We also welcome the strengthening of the provisions on the statement of terms and conditions and enabling the Presidents of Tribunals to issue practice directions."

TUC reaction


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