Right of Reply: Alan Johnson

The Minister for Competitiveness at the DTI responds to an article by Kate Hilpern, which argued that parental leave would be a backward step for working women
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The Independent Culture
THE VIEWS expressed in the article by Kate Hilpern headlined "How parental rights could go very wrong" in the Review of 1 September suggest that giving workers a new right to parental leave from 15 December this year is "bad news" for employees - and especially for women. I have to disagree.

This Government is putting into place decent minimum standards for workers that will help them balance their work with family life. The package that we are introducing includes simplifying maternity rights by extending the right to statutory maternity leave to 18 weeks. Parental leave, following birth or adoption, will help both mothers and fathers to spend more time with their children.

The way that we propose to implement the parental leave directive will give parents more choice about how they juggle these work and family pressures, and will also give businesses the flexibility to put in place a scheme that is most suited to the company's and the parents' own needs. The best firms already have their own schemes in place and are reaping the rewards. Many companies of all sizes, large and small, are going from strength to strength on the back of strong, family-friendly policies, the adoption of which makes good business sense.

The suggestion that businesses are thinking twice about employing women is contrary to recent statistics. Between 1984 and 1998 employment of men in the United Kingdom grew by 6.1 per cent, but that of women grew by 21 per cent, the fastest growth rate (52 per cent) being that for women of 25 to 34 - and this at a time when women's rights were increasing. This is a positive package for workers, and it is particularly good news for women.