The Work and Families Bill 2005

United Kingdom

The Work and Families Bill was published on 19 October. Its aim is to help working parents balance the demands of their jobs with caring for their children by introducing a modern framework of rights and responsibilities. Most significantly, mothers will be entitled to nine months' statutory maternity pay from April 2007 (which is likely to increase to a year) and where the mother chooses to return to work after six months but before the end of her maternity leave entitlement, fathers will be able to take the outstanding amount as extended paternity leave and will be able to use up any outstanding statutory pay for this purpose. In this way parents will be able to share care responsibilities should they choose to do so. The Department of Trade and Industry suggests up to 440,000 fathers could benefit from this arrangement.

Other measures aim to reduce administration and encourage planning and communication during leave. They provide welcome clarification and simplification for both employers and employees and will:

  • introduce 'keeping in touch days' so that, where employees and employers agree, a women on maternity leave can go into work for a few days without losing her right to maternity leave or a week's statutory pay
  • extend the period of notice for early return from maternity leave from 28 days to eight weeks (allowing for easier business planning)
  • clarify, in law, that reasonable contact is permitted at any stage during maternity leave.

The new Bill will also extend the right to request flexible working arrangements to carers of dependant adults from April 2007, with further consultation to take place on precisely which carers will qualify.

Two aspects of the Bill have not been widely publicised:

  1. the power for the Secretary of State to increase a "week's pay" for the purposes of statutory redundancy payments or unfair dismissal basic awards on one occasion only. This means that a one off increase (in addition to the increase tracking the changes in the retail price index) is now likely. This is likely to be used to compensate for the changes consequent on equalisation under the proposed age discrimination law, effective from October 2006.
  2. the Working Time Regulations will be amended to make public holidays additional to the four weeks paid holiday entitlement, rather than inclusive.

Some of the measures are due to be introduced in April 2007. However, before any implementation takes place, there will be further consultation on the many areas where the provisions require fleshing out or where outstanding questions require to be addressed.