Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has published a consultation paper containing a number of proposals to extend the rights of working parents. The proposals build on the commitments made alongside the 2004 Pre-Budget Report in the policy paper, "Choice for parents, the best start for children: a ten year strategy for children."

Among the main proposals outlined in the consultation are:

  • An extension of maternity and adoption pay from six months to nine months by 2007 with the goal of a full year's paid leave by the end of the next Parliament;
  • Extending the right to request flexible working hours to carers of adults and parents of older children;
  • Supporting employers by conferring a greater degree of certainty as to when parents on such leave are returning to work;
  • Ease the administrative burden on businesses by the government assuming responsibility for paying parents directly through the Inland Revenue; and
  • Allowing mothers to transfer a proportion of their maternity leave and pay to fathers.

In addition to the clear benefits for working families, the government believes that greater flexibility can also help businesses by allowing the best employees to be retained and building a more supportive and committed working environment. According to Patricia Hewitt, almost one million parents have already changed their working hours since the introduction of the right to request flexible working arrangements was introduced.

The proposals have been welcomed by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, who said "they would make a real difference to the lives of working parents and go a long way towards making their lives less stressful." The Institute of Directors has also welcomed the proposals in principle but noted that business needs more support from government to implement such policies.

The closing date for responses is 25 May 2005.

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