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05 March 2001

Unpaid leave "not an option", say working parents
The most popular family-friendly measure the government could give working parents is paid parental leave, according to a survey carried out by Labour Research magazine.

The survey, of 152 trade union reps covering workplaces with 200,000 employees, found that both mothers and fathers who are working want to participate in bringing up their children but say taking unpaid leave is not an option.

The survey results come as the government concludes its consultation on its Work & Parents green paper. Labour Research asked the union reps to say which of the measures listed in the green paper would most benefit their members.

The top five choices made by the union reps were:

? the introduction of paid parental leave - chosen by 70%
? increasing the length of statutory maternity pay from 18 to 26 weeks - 57%
? introducing a right for both parents to work reduced hours after maternity leave -52%
? introducing the right to paternity leave paid at the flat rate of maternity pay - 51%
? extending rights for time off for dependants to include routine hospital appointments - 51%

European directive means working parents can now take up to 13 weeks' unpaid leave to care for children under five - but very few parents can afford to take it.

While 70% of union reps in the survey say their members' want paid parental leave the government is unlikely to introduce this. The green paper says that "paying for parental leave would be very costly for employers and the state".

However, there has been speculation that the government will implement the next most popular option, an increase in the period of statutory maternity pay, in this month's Budget.

And the government has also made a pre-election promise that it will introduce the fourth most popular choice - paid paternity leave.

The survey also looked at the extent to which unions at those workplaces had negotiated family-friendly options with their employer. It found that:
? 60% of the workplaces provided some paid paternity leave;
? a third of the workplaces had a maternity pay scheme that was better than the statutory scheme; and
? a quarter allowed mothers to work reduced hours on their return from maternity leave.

Notes to editors

1 More details of the survey are published in the enclosed March 2001 edition of Labour Research.

2 Labour Research is published by the Labour Research Department, an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 89 years ago. More than1,800 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions representing 99% of total TUC membership, are affiliated.

3 For further information contact Tessa Wright on 020 7902 9812.

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