Campaign for paid parental leave launched

A trade union-backed campaign was launched in November 1998 to press the case for statutory parental leave, due to be introduced in the UK in 1999 in response to EU legislation, to include provision for payment during the period of leave.

An alliance of trade unions and other pressure groups launched a campaign in November 1998 to persuade the UK government to provide for paid parental leave when it introduces the necessary legislation to implement the 1996 EU parental leave Directive (96/34/EC). The Parental Leave Campaign, which includes the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and a range of childcare organisations, told a meeting of Members of Parliament that taking parental leave would not be a realistic option for many working parents - particularly the low paid, single parents and fathers - unless it is paid, operated flexibly and promoted effectively to workers, employers and the general public.

The government's election manifesto promised the introduction of "limited unpaid parental leave". The Fairness at work white paper, published in May 1998 (UK9806129F), reiterated the Government's commitment to introducing parental leave in line with the Directive as part of a package of "family-friendly" employment policies, but said nothing about the issue of payment. The Parental Leave Campaign argues that the experience of the existing maternity leave provisions is that if the leave is unpaid, many parents, particularly if they are low paid, cannot afford to take it. EIRO's own comparative study of parental leave arrangements across Europe (TN9801201S) suggests that the predominant factor in determining take-up rates is widely seen as being whether parental leave is paid, and to what extent.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is currently drawing up proposals for implementing the requirements of the parental leave Directive in the UK. The Directive requires that men and women workers must be given an individual, non-transferable right to at least three months' parental leave for childcare purposes (as distinct from maternity leave) after the birth or adoption of a child until a given age of up to eight years. Workers must also be entitled to time off from work for urgent family reasons. The necessary legislation is due to take effect in the UK by December 1999. The numbers of employees affected are likely to be considerable: according to the TUC, around 1.5 million working women and 2.5 million working men have children under school age.

The Parental Leave Campaign argues that, properly implemented, parental leave will be good for business as well as employees, "helping [organisations] to attract and retain stable, well-motivated and productive workers who need to be able to balance work and family life". The group believes that good employers will embrace parental leave, particularly if given the appropriate practical and financial support from the government.

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