Strong backing for maternity leave extension


The British government's plan to extending maternity leave to a year appears to have the backing of the majority of people in HR, according to a new poll.

An online survey of 302 people on the HR Gateway website found that the plan, floated by the Minister for Children, Margaret Hodge recently, had the support of almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents. Fewer than one in three (28 per cent) labelled it ‘a bad idea’.

Around one in ten (nine per cent) remained cautious and said that it would ‘depend on the detail’ of any legislation. However, with the majority in agreement with the move maternity rights campaigners welcomed the figures.

Sarah King from the Maternity Alliance said: "This is great news. Employers tend to be very wary so it is good to hear the idea has the support of HR.

"However, if the extension is to benefit all women we also need an extension of SMP [Statutory Maternity Pay] otherwise low paid mothers will have to go back after six months,"

However, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) did not see the result as encouraging. Current legislation needs ‘time to bed down’, while the impact on Small and Medium Sized firms could be huge:

"We want to leave more time to see the effect of the new rights which were introduced in April 2003. We would like the government to fulfill its commitment to review the situation in 2006," a spokesman said.

But Sarah King believes that good employer/employee relations could solve most of the problems. Assessing health and safety risks for pregnant women during pregnancy is a much bigger issue and something the Government needs to address:

"Finding suitable work for pregnant women can be difficult for SMEs as their size limits tasks available. Most of the time the only option is to suspend women on full pay for the duration of the pregnancy.

"The Government should create a payment similar to SMP for small employers on this issue; money they can claim back that will compensate them for the loss for a worker," she said.