The Economic and International Affairs Scrutiny Panel has warned that family-friendly proposals lodged by Social Security Minister Judy Martin risk causing financial hardship to employers – particularly small businesses – and creating a two-tier society in which only those who can afford to actually take time off would be entitled to benefit.
They also argue that despite having some ‘positive elements and intentions’, the plans were ultimately based on a ‘flawed consultation process’.
The panel, led by Deputy Kirsten Morel, has now called for the minister to withdraw the parental leave part of the proposals – which also includes a move to allow parents to take the leave in up to four blocks over three years – and go back to the drawing board.
Under the minister’s plans, the first six weeks of leave for both parents would be paid by employers. Mothers would continue to be entitled to statutory maternity leave of £216.86 a week for 18 weeks – an allowance which is paid directly to recipients and deducted from what employers would pay for the first six weeks.
‘Jersey cannot afford to introduce law that is not based on clear and strong evidence,’ said Deputy Morel. ‘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.’
Deputy Morel added: ‘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.
‘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.’
In case the minister does not withdraw the relevant section of her proposals, the panel has lodged a number of amendments to the draft law, including one that removes the article that relates to the leave proposals.
The proposition is due to be debated on 18 June.