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• Raise paternity pay to address gender imbalances, say MPs

An increase in the rates of paternity pay, and three months of non-transferable paternity leave, should be seriously considered as measures to address the gender pay gap, according to an influential parliamentary committee on the topic.

The Gender Pay Gap report, by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, is an attempt to address the systemic issues causing gender pay disparity and recommend government action in the area. It said there was currently a "lack of effective government policy" in many areas that contribute to the gap, with the flagship policy of shared parental leave having “made little difference” to date.

It added that forthcoming reporting regulations, whereby larger companies will have to report their pay gap, also did not go far enough to make a real difference.

The report recommended that three months of parental leave be automatically granted to second parents on top of current parental leave benefits, and that payment of paternity leave increase to 90 per cent of salary (capped for higher earners), with the three months non-transferable paternity leave paid at 90 per cent for the first four weeks.

It also suggested that the government investigate the benefits of offering all forms of parental leave on a part-time basis.

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said: “The ‘motherhood penalty’ is a price that women continue to pay at work and at home. The answer lies with fathers. A decent period of paid paternity leave would allow more fathers to care for their young children – and push this out of the domain of ‘women’s work’ for good.

“The option to take parental leave part-time would make it a realistic opportunity for many low-paid fathers, who would otherwise find it impossible to make ends meet on statutory pay alone."

In addition to greater paternity leave, the report said the key to addressing the gender pay gap was flexible working. It called on the government to make all jobs flexible from the outset unless there was a "strong and continuing business case for them not to be".

"This does not mean part-time work, which we know is underpaid and limits career progression," the report said. "Flexible working is much broader and includes job shares, late starts, early finishes, term-time working and working from home. The government recognises the value of modernising the workplace, but is still not taking the steps needed to ensure that flexible working is offered to all employees, particularly those in lower-paid sectors."

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD, said she welcomed the measures proposed in the report but was concerned about too much government intervention in issues like flexible working. "It is about getting people onside much more, awareness raising and promoting a voluntary approach so that employers engage with it, rather than thinking 'here is another piece of regulation – how do we resist some of it?’ [Regulation] gets very compliance-focused, which isn't a good thing. You have to be careful about how you do it."

The report also recommended establishing strategies for low-paid sectors with large numbers of female employees to improve productivity and pay levels; the creation of a scheme to help women return to employment after time out of the labour market; and the introduction of carers’ leave of six weeks to allow employees facing short-term care issues to take time out of work without risking their jobs.

Added: 23-03-2016
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