Celebrating yet another win in my campaign for greater transparency on parental leave and pay

I am absolutely delighted that earlier this week the Government announced it would be consulting on the Bill I introduced in Parliament back in June, which would require organisations with more than 250 staff to publish their parental leave and pay policies.

Campaigning does work! The numbers in Parliament and the Government’s inability to focus on anything but Brexit mean that more and more MPs want to work across party lines to make things happen. In fact, my Bill received support from Conservative, Labour, SNP and Green MPs, as well as of course from my Lib Dem colleagues. It’s great to see that we can still have a positive impact on the future of our country from the opposition benches.

It is a national scandal that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is still so rife in our workplaces – each year 54,000 women lose their jobs because of it. So, it is about time that Conservative Ministers did something about it.

Over the last four months, I have been making a case for large organisations to publish their parental leave and pay policies. I wrote to the Prime Minister in July pointing out that only two Civil Service departments did so. The Government responded by instructing all departments to publish theirs and promising that the new Civil Service job site will also include that information.

Last week, ten major UK employers lent their support by announcing that they too would publish their policies. They’ve shown others that this is a simple and easy change to make with great benefits for employers, employees and job applicants. I hope many others will follow their excellent example while we wait for the legislation to come in.

Employers who are open about what they offer to working parents can signal that they have a supportive culture that enables people to combine work with caring responsibilities. Employees feel empowered to ask for better benefits if they can see what competitors offer. Moreover, job applicants would no longer need to ask at an interview, therefore, reducing the risk of discrimination.

Moreover, this isn’t just about women. Research published by the BITC last month found that 85% of men think that they should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women and 56% of men with caring responsibilities want to be more engaged in caring. Employers must ensure that men also feel supported in taking on their fair share of caring responsibilities – being more transparent about parental leave and pay policies will help.

I won’t pretend that publishing parental leave and pay policies is a silver bullet. Both employers and the Government need to do more. For example, we need better flexible working policies, stronger enforcement of employment rights, and plugging the gap in free early years provision between 12 months and two years.

However, I have personally always been a fan of greater transparency. As Employment Relations Minister I secured government support for gender pay gap reporting, which was a long overdue wake-up call for business leaders to start measuring and take action. This Bill is very much in the same spirit.

While we wait for the Government to go through its consultation process –and I won’t let them off the hook until this becomes law! – I hope other organisations decide to voluntary publish their policies and take one more step toward building fairer and more equal workplaces.

* Jo Swinson is Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, and was a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities Minister from 2012-15.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '18 - 1:32am

    This is a welcome piece and Jo reveals what many of us realise, including intelligent people like she is.

    These issues relate to quality of life for all of us and preservation of a way of life better for all of us.

    Sadly, the country I know best other than this my own, is that , the place of my own wife’s origin, the US. They have a nation whose right wing preach traditional values but really mean work till you drop unless you are ok with one income, that of a man , who, rarely, earns enough to let a family live at all well on it.

    In our country, with a Conservative party well to the left of the US Republicans, it is yet to be seen, that an agenda of seeing companies as family oriented and quality of life concerned is forthcoming.

    We need to pursue this agenda and some of us are, like our deputy leader and those of us involved in the arts and creative field who can write about something other than Brexit.

  • Peter Watson 4th Oct '18 - 11:21am

    I fear that one of the consequences of the rise of a “gig economy”, zero hours contracts, “concealed” employment through personal service companies etc. is a severe undermining of the employment rights discussed here.
    Many (including some Lib Dems) have championed the flexibility of these practices, but it seems to me that if an “employer” wants to stop paying an individual because they are pregnant, a parent, ill, the “wrong” gender/sexuality/colour/religion/age, etc. then it is becoming more straightforward to do so without the normal protections offered by employment law.
    Jo Swinson raises important points here, but I feel that any such discussion should be in the context of these newer more flexible employment practices and should highlight the party’s policies in that area, e.g. a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time.

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