On 14 February 2006 the House of Lords read the Work and Families Bill for a second time. It has now gone to the Grand Committee for detailed debate
The DTI consulted over the summer of 2005 on the Work and Families Bill and issued its response on 19 October 2005. Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said: "Today's bill delivers on our commitment to help working parents balance the demands of their job with caring for their children by introducing a modern framework of rights and responsibilities that offers real choice and flexibility."
Essentially, the Work and Families Bill seeks to help working families by delivering choice , equality and flexibility. The Bill gives the Government the power to:
- extend the period for which statutory maternity and adoption pay and maternity allowance is payable from 26 weeks up to a maximum 52 weeks (it is proposed that the Government will use this power to extend the period during which statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance is paid to 39 weeks, although no regulations have been published yet);
- introduce a new right of up to 3 and eventually 6 months' "additional paternity leave";
- increase on one occasion only the amount of "a week's pay". A "week's pay" is the calculator used to determine compensation payments for redundancy, unfair dismissal and insolvency;
- increase the right to paid annual leave under the Working Time Regulations 1998. This could enable the Secretary of State to honour the commitment set out in the Warwick Agreement to provide 4 weeks' holiday for all workers, excluding bank or public holidays;
- widen the eligibility to request flexible working. (the Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) (Amendment) Regulations (due to come in to force in April 2007) extend the right to request flexible working to carers for adults)
The Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2006 and the Paternity and Adoption Leave(Amendment) Regulations 2006 are being consulted on presently and propose to remove the qualifying period for additional maternity leave so that all employees who qualify for ordinary maternity leave will also qualify for additional maternity leave. These Regulations also extend the date by which the employee must notify their employer of their intention to return before the end of the period from the additional maternity leave and entitled the employer to make "reasonable contact" with the employee while she is on maternity leave. Guidance on what is reasonable contact during maternity leave will be set out in guidance to follow.
The Work and Families Bill was likened by Baroness Miller of Hendon to "signing a blank cheque". This is because in the most part, the Bill enables the government to make regulations to implement the proposals. Therefore, the detail of the proposals will be contained in various secondary legislation. The Government issued a further consultation on some of the secondary legislation to implement the proposals on 31 January 2006. If the saying is right and the devil really is in the detail, then stakeholders ought to consider the secondary legislation closely and feed in to the consultation process.