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18 July 2013

Consultation on shared parental rights and flexibility at work

Consultation on shared parental rights and flexibility at work

The Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) in Northern Ireland has launched a consultation on shared parental rights and extending flexibility at work. This follows closely the consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in England and Wales in November 2012.

At first glance this appears quite technical but it touches upon some really important principles. Essentially this is about the life-space where family and work collide. The bible has a lot to say about work and family. Both are generous gifts from God to be enjoyed, however we all know that in a fallen world both can also be sources of tension. We can't put a monetary value on our relationships but the folowing statistics from the Relationships Foundation give some useful insights:-

  • Family businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, employing 9.5 million people and contributing £73 billion in tax.
  • Carers, usually family members, provide unpaid care each year worth around £90 billion.
  • In spite of all this an ever decreasing value is being placed on relationships and family breakdown costs a staggering £46 billion per year or £1,541 per UK tax payer.

In a time of recession when work is scarce and in a social climate where families and relationships are increasingly fracturing, we have an opportunity to speak biblical truth and wisdom into this area.

Here are some of the key proposals in the consultation:-

  • To bring parental leave and pay rights for adoption and surrogacy roughly into line with those around birth children (eg antenatal and pre-adoption appointments, adoption leave and pay)
  • Increasing the age limit for unpaid parental leave from a child aged 5 up to 18 years old.
  • Shared parental leave. Qualifications apply similar to existing ones around maternity or paternity entitlements but with a new economic activity test for partners. Parent will be able to share the leave and pay more flexibly and take leave together.
  • Each parent would be allowed up to 10 Keeping in Touch (KIT) days while off on paternity leave.
  • Currently parents of children up to 17, or 18 if disabled and careers of adults have a legal right to request flexible working. The proposal is to extend this to all employees. This is subject to working for the employer for 26 weeks. Employers will retain the right to refuse flexible working on quite a number of operational grounds.

It's difficult to balance the interests, rights and responsibilies of employers and employess, parents and carers. How can parents and carers be prioritised while extending a right to request flexible working to more people? What about the effect on small businesses in Northern Ireland - 89.1 per cent of employers are Micro firms with less than 10 employees. On the other hand there is some great potential. These proposals may allow for greater involvement by fathers in young children's lives, more flexibility in terms of work/life balance and a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Could it even be a small step towards a redeeming of the value of relationships and a shift away from consumerism?

There will be a huge divergence of very legitimate and conflicting opinion. We don't dare to be perscriptive but do take seriously this opportunity to shed some light and season with salt these issues of family and work. Please feel free to send your views to the consultation to info@eauk.org - no later than 23 August 2013. 

   Photo credit: alphao.