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Employees with Families

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

1. If she will discuss with trade union representatives the guidance provided to employers on rights for employees with families. (313700)

The Government are committed to building a fair and family-friendly labour market, and my ministerial colleagues and I meet regularly with both unions and representatives of business to discuss this aim and how to advance it. Today’s announcement that fathers will be able to take up to six months off on paternity leave by replacing the mother at home for some of her maternity leave is a further advance for the flexibility agenda.

The unions are doing a great job in promoting the right to work flexibly, but many parents remain unaware of their rights or are wary of asking for them. What more can the Department do, working with the trade unions, to make people feel more able to ask for more family-friendly hours and to increase the uptake of that right?

There is a range of things that we can do. Equality reps, which many trade unions have in workplaces, can help to provide better information and signpost individuals and companies to it. The section of the website on employing people has 350,000 hits a month from employers seeking information on how to provide better flexibility. The evidence is that many people ask for flexible working and 95 per cent. of requests are positively met.

Many businesses find that operating a flexible working policy brings huge productivity gains, as well as being good for those with families, although some remain either unconvinced or unsure of how to go about it. What can the Government do to promote the business benefits of flexible working too, and encourage more organisations to take it up, whether by creating part-time roles at senior levels or pursuing such policies as job sharing?

The hon. Lady is right. We do a range of such work. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently announced that we would bring together employers, business representatives and the TUC to look at how to improve family-friendly working practices further. That type of pragmatic three-way discussion does just that: it is successful, and it is good news for employees and employers. In other words, it is a typical, good Labour policy.

Employees at O2 in my constituency presented me with a petition last week about child care vouchers. It was initiated because the child care voucher companies had left them unaware that the Government had changed their planned policy for tax breaks for child care vouchers. Will the Minister please talk to the child care voucher providers to ensure that they work with the companies that use such vouchers and inform employees of that positive policy?

I am happy to take up the point that my hon. Friend has made and talk to the relevant organisations.