Consultation on extending the right to time off for civic duties

The Government has issued a new consultation seeking views and extending the right to time off for public duties under Section 50 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The Government's aim is to encourage a wider spectrum of individuals to get involved in direct decision-making in their communities by removing the barrier of a lack of time. It also seeks to modernise the list of activities entitling people to time off work in order to better reflect the kind of roles available and encourage more people to participate. The proposals include extending the time off entitlement to those that want to help young offenders, those involved in the local courts and probation services and community and council tenants who want to take an active role in the management of their estates. It is expected that legislation will be implemented in April 2009. The consultation closes on 19 December 2008.

EC proposals to improve maternity leave 

The European Commission has published proposals for revising the Pregnant Workers Directive as follows:

  • increasing the minimum period of maternity leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks;
  • increasing the period of compulsory leave from 2 weeks to 6 weeks;
  • recommending that maternity pay during the 18 week period should be equivalent to 100% of the woman's salary, although Members States could set a ceiling on the level of maternity pay of at least the rate of sick pay;
  • introducing a duty to provide written reasons for dismissal where a woman is dismissed within 6 months of the end of her maternity leave;
  • introducing a right to return from the minimum period of maternity leave to the same or equivalent job;
  • the introduction of a right to request to work flexibly on return of maternity leave.

The EC's proposals are likely to have little practical impact on the statutory maternity leave and pay in the UK, where more generous rights already exist. The only proposal which could cause concern is that for maternity pay to be 18 weeks' full pay. Currently in the UK, statutory maternity pay (SMP) is 90% of normal pay for 6 weeks and a flat rate, currently £117.18 per week, for the remainder of the maternity pay period. What is unclear is whether the suggested cap on maternity pay at the level of sick pay would be at the level of statutory sick pay (SSP), which is currently £75.04 a week or company sick pay which varies between businesses. It is more likely to be statutory sick pay. The Pregnant Workers Directive currently allows a cap on maternity pay and SMP set at the same level as SSP has been held to be sufficient to comply with that Directive.