The Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel has reviewed proposals to extend family friendly employment rights, finding that there was insufficient consultation during the policy development process and that the law is likely to have significant unintended consequences that were not assessed before the proposals were lodged.
In publishing its final report, the Panel has commended those elements of the law aimed at improving rights for breastfeeding mothers and creating statutory rights protecting employees who need to attend ante-natal appointments but it has recommended that the Minister for Social Security withdraw Article 4, the element of the proposed law relating to parental leave, and has called for the Minister to start again with clear policy aims and a robust consultation process before bringing new parental leave provisions to the States Assembly.
In the event that the Minister chooses not to withdraw Article 4, the Panel has lodged a number of amendments to the draft Law, including an amendment that removes Article 4 from the proposition.
Chairman of the Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel, Deputy Kirsten Morel said: “The Panel’s findings are clear and unambiguous but our conclusions should not take away from the positive elements and intentions of the proposals, which include the desire for cultural change so men and women are seen as equally responsible for childcare,” said Deputy Kirsten Morel, Chair of the Panel.
“We understand all that the Minister is trying to achieve but these proposals will not deliver her aims and this is partly because they are based on a flawed consultation process which did not reach all those it needed to. As a result, the proposals put forward by the Minister are not based on the full range of information needed to achieve such ambitious aims.”
Creating a two-tier society
The Panel’s review uncovered a significant number of concerns about the proposals from a wide variety of stakeholders. The proposals, as drafted, have the potential to cause financial hardship to employers, particularly for smaller organisations, they could create division within teams and most importantly, they could create a two-tier society because the government is not funding any element of parental leave and so, the opportunity to take extended periods of time off to care for young children is likely to be available only to those wealthy enough to afford it.
In highlighting its concerns, the Panel recognises the importance of family friendly policy and is keen to reflect the fact that the majority of stakeholders are supportive of the underlying principles of the legislation, particularly the introduction of breastfeeding breaks and appropriate facilities.
The legislative changes put forward by the Social Security Minister were based on a consultation process undertaken by the Employment Forum in 2017. The Panel has found that the consultation was not as thorough as it needed to be and that it did not reach a sufficiently broad range of stakeholders.
No evidence of sufficient consultation
The Forum was unable to provide the Panel with a description of the organisations consulted and so the Panel could not be satisfied that the consultation process reached a fully representative sample of employing organisations. Given that the cost and administrative burden of these proposals is borne largely by employers, the Panel is of the view that the Forum should have ensured that representatives of small, medium, large and third sector employers were engaged for consultation.
The small number of responses received from employers is evidence of an insufficient consultation process. Of 331 written responses received, only 27 were from employers and there is no information to confirm the types of organisations they represent.
The strength of the concerns received during the review has prompted the Panel to recommend that the Minister withdraws the parental leave provisions of the proposed law with a view to conducting a full and thorough evidence-based review before bringing new proposals to the Assembly, should the evidence support that course of action.
Chairman of the Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel, Deputy Kirsten Morel said:
“Jersey cannot afford to introduce law that is not based on clear and strong evidence. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the parental leave element of these proposals and so, as a Panel, we feel it is extremely important that the Minister withdraws those elements. There is a danger that these proposals could cause greater division in society because the failure of the government to support the proposals with funding, means that the full cost falls on individual families and employers. In reality, only those able to afford to take a year off work will be able to do so and so those children of less affluent families will not benefit from the same time together with their parents. The Minister should start again with clear policy aims such as ‘achieving socially equitable parental leave’ rather than just having the aim of extending leave, irrespective of the consequences for islanders.”