Maternity leave is extended

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AN ESTIMATED 85,000 women will benefit from a package of "family- friendly" measures to be announced this week by Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as part of the Fairness at Work legislation.

Paid maternity leave will be extended from 14 to18 weeks, but mothers will also be able to take up to 40 weeks in unpaid leaveafter one year of service, rather than the current two years. Unpaid parental leave for three months at any time during the child's life, possibly up to the age of 16, will be given statutory backing. The details will be given afterconsultation.

Mr Byers is keen to extend parental leave to couples who have adopted a child. Workers will also have statutory rights to emergency leave to cope with a family crisis for a day or two.

The package of measures will help to smooth friction over trade-union recognition, which led to months of heated negotiations between senior trade union figures, ministers and heads of industry.

The Bill, to be unveiled on Thursday, includes protection for employers, giving the independent Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) sole discretion in approving automatic recognition of a union. Unions must prove that they have 10 per cent membership in an agreed bargaining unit before applying for recognition. The CAC will award recognition if in a ballot at least 40 per cent of those eligible to vote support it. Where more than 50 per cent are in a union, they will be allowed recognition for bargaining rights without a ballot.