Will the Children and Families Bill cost jobs in printing?

Sophie Hudson
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Queen's Speech last week confirmed that the Children and Families Bill would be the latest legislation to attempt to make parental leave more flexible - most notably giving fathers increased rights to share leave with mothers.

The planned changes have been met with a mixed response. Some laud the extra flexibility and equality this could give parents. But others point out the burdens this could add to businesses at an already challenging time, and the fact that companies have barely had time to adjust to the changes in paternity leave introduced in 2011.

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says businesses have yet to see the full impact of ‘additional paternity leave’, implemented in April last year, adding that it puts an additional regulatory burden of compliance on employers in what are already challenging times.

"Businesses need a clear period when they can focus on growth and knowing that substantial regulatory change will be introduced again in a few years is not conducive to this," he says.

That said, the FSB does agrees that there should be a reform of maternity and paternity leave.

As things stand, mothers are entitled to paid leave during pregnancy for antenatal appointments, 39 weeks of paid maternity leave and 13 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Fathers are entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave, and under legislation that came into force in April 2011, if the mother returns to work after her 20th week of maternity leave, her partner can take a further 26 weeks of additional paternity leave – payable according to how much paid leave remains.

But, under government proposals for a new system of flexible parental leave, which were launched last May and have now been given legislative detail, things are set to become more equal from April 2015. Under these plans, mothers would be able to take 18 weeks of paid maternity leave around birth and fathers would still get two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Both parents would also have four weeks of paid parental leave in the first year of the child’s life. And either parent would be able to take 30 weeks of additional leave, 17 of which would be paid and could be broken into blocks between parents. Consequently, men could take up to 36 weeks of paternity leave, 23 of which would be paid.

Impact on business
And in order to make things more flexible for employers, they would have the right to ask staff to return for short periods or to take the leave in one continuous block, depending on business needs.

These rules would apply to all businesses, regardless of size. The government is to respond to a general consultation on the plans, and a spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills says it will carry out further consultations on the administrative issues.

So what do printing businesses think of these plans? They are perhaps likely to be more affected by them than companies in many other sectors, because of their male-dominated workforce. According to the BPIF’s Manpower Survey 2011, 82% of the UK printing industry workforce is made up of men.

Some in the industry are therefore worried. "My opinion is it’s an absolute farce," says Larkbeare Services managing director Neil Oakley. His business has 35 employees, two thirds of whom are men.

"The moral side is all very well," he says. "But if you keep giving employers more costs, they can’t compete on a global scale. As a finisher, we compete with countries like China and they don’t have any of these costs."

Human resources consultant Yvette Court, who has worked with printing businesses in the past, says companies that are concerned could put in place a policy, or amend a policy, to specify rules and procedures around requests for leave.

"Companies should specify that they want ample notice of any leave request in order to arrange cover for workers during this period or to arrange overtime for existing workers," she says.

She also points out that it may be worthwhile for companies to analyse the current take up of paternity leave, as the impact of the changes will depend on how likely male employees are to take up these rights.

Indeed many have noticed that men do not necessarily even take the leave they are entitled to as it is. Optichrome chairman Ted Stephens says that, among its workforce of 50, 70% of which is male, while there are women on maternity leave, men generally do not take their paternity leave.

"Historically people have just booked holiday at the time when their wives are having children," he says. "We’d grant leave anyway, if the circumstances warranted it, but we’re becoming a nanny state with all these different types of leave."

There are of course printing companies that see the changes in a more positive light (see Reader Reaction), and this is mainly due to benefits they can see in more flexible working arrangements. Experts agree that such benefits could counterbalance any administrative burdens.

More engaged workers
"There’s plenty of research evidence that says that employees that work flexibly are more engaged and work better so these changes are positive for companies," says Mike Emmott, advisor on employee relations at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

He also points out that businesses can influence how likely employees are to take parental leave by the added benefits they offer beyond what must be provided by law. "It will be interesting to see whether employers do decide to top up paternity leave pay, as many do for maternity leave," he says.

But Court says that for competition reasons businesses may not have much choice in whether to offer these advantages. "Employers may be forced to offer improved paternity packages to male workers in order to remain competitive and retain quality staff, although they are not obliged to do so," she says.


30-SECOND BRIEFING

  • Last week’s Queen’s Speech confirmed legislation that will cover proposed changes to parental leave, due to come into force from April 2015
  • The changes will give parents more flexibility, and give fathers the right to take up to 36 weeks of paternity leave, 23 of which will be paid
  • The printing industry is likely to be greatly affected because 82% of its  workforce is male
  • Some print companies are concerned about the changes, saying this is a bad time to be given any more administrative burdens
  • Others point out that flexible working can be very motivational for a workforce and therefore
    benefit employers
  • Some question the impact as many men do not take their existing allowance

READER REACTION

Harry Skidmore

Chief executive, Easibind

(80 employees, 50% male)

"This is a good thing. It makes sense that there are equal rights for both parents. We have had good relationships with our employees with flexible working. I do not see any difference in whether it is a man or a woman taking this leave. The legislation will deal with the statutory pay area and contracts will just need to be refined to make sure it is all equal. It is not burdensome. It is about having a give-and-take policy. We will put ourselves out for people and they will put themselves out for us."

Gareth Roberts
Managing director, Bishops Printers
(212 employees, 87%male)
"Like any legislation, when it is first announced we have unilateral concerns as an employer about staffing and covering costs. But equally as an enlightened employer we have to offer staff a good work-life balance. We do not want to be alarmist about it, so we plan to accommodate it. In reality it is a cost we have to work out how to bear. We do have time to plan for it and as with most legislation, once it is formulised, we will try to plan for things in advance of being required to do them."

Mark Snee
Managing director, Technoprint
(10 employees, 80% male)
"This is a burden for small companies. It is becoming unworth being an employer. A number of measures are being brought in that will make things more difficult. Anyone in their right mind can see how shockingly difficult things are because of the economy. Anything the government does that adds more burden is disastrous. If someone taking advantage of this policy coincides with someone going off sick, we could be without a third of our workforce."

Read the Forum of Private Business' Phil McCabe comment here

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