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01 July 1999

Just how family-friendly is business?
Despite making a shift towards more "family-friendly" employment practices, some of the largest British companies will have to move quickly to comply with the forthcoming legislation on family leave, according to a survey by Labour Research magazine.

Under provisions expected in the Employment Relations Act 1999, due to come in to force by the end of the year, employees will gain the right to claim up to three months' unpaid parental leave for young children as well as a "reasonable" amount of time off to deal with "domestic incidents".

Labour Research contacted 12 of the largest UK companies, mostly retail chains and banks, and found that most are open to the idea of family-friendly working provided such arrangements don't inconvenience the business. However, the arrangements which staff currently enjoy are largely at management's discretion rather the than clear-cut rights they will gain under the law.

For example, only Lloyds TSB currently offers specific parental leave - of 63 weeks - although at ASDA parents can apply for up to three months' unpaid childcare leave in the school summer holidays. In both cases the employer provides for continuity of service and benefits.

HSBC said a parental leave scheme was "under development" and several other companies - Tesco, Boots, ASDA and Natwest - offer career breaks (at brewers Bass, career breaks are available on a discretionary basis). These career breaks are similar to parental leave and might be converted into parental leave when the legislation comes into force.

There was a similar picture on "time off for domestic incidents". While most of the companies surveyed offer "compassionate" or other special leave for emergencies, entitlement for less serious domestic incidents was not clear cut.

Only two companies currently give a definite entitlement. Boots said it would give "a couple of days" and Safeway said it was available with the exact amount being at the manager's discretion.

At other companies staff can apply for such leave but it is at management's discretion. In the case of HSBC, this could be up to five days' paid leave. Tesco, British Telecom and NatWest said any time off would be on a discretionary basis.

ASDA said entitlement would be "down to individual circumstances. A few hours would be OK but it would be different for several days". The company allows employees to work "lieu" time and swap shifts with colleagues for ad hoc absences rather than having their pay cut.

Notes to editors

Full details of the Labour Research survey of the family-friendly employment policies of nine of the largest UK companies are published in the July issue of the magazine. The price of a single copy is ?2.80 (?3.10 including postage).
The Labour Research Department is an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 88 years ago. More than 2,000 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions, representing 99% of total TUC membership are affiliated.
For more details contact Clare Ruhemann on 0171 902 9825.

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