Even minor concessions to the needs of working parents have caused 'peer jealousy' and deterred several firms from setting up creches or giving direct financial support, the study found.
Around 160 employers in and around Macclesfield, Cheshire, with more than 4,200 workers between them, were questioned about child care provision, assistance and requirements within the workforce. Most were unable to say how staff turnover was influenced by employees having children, and only eight firms said they had a child care policy.
Two-fifths of the workers questioned were women. Nine out of ten who gave birth last year intended to return to work, but less than two-thirds actually did so after maternity leave.
The majority of firms confined their assistance to part-time working, job-sharing and granting leave for employees with sick children. Only 1 per cent provided financial help with child care or provided creches and nursery places.
'The impression given was that many respondents regard their female workforce as being replaceable. It also appears there is a problem of 'peer jealousy' when even minor concessions are made to working parents in respect of child care,' the report states. The research was commissioned by the Macclesfield Chamber of Commerce and Industry and carried out by management consultants.
As a result, businesses did not feel they were under any great pressure to retain their working parents, and had no immediate plans to change practices or policies on their behalf.
A separate questionnaire survey of 138 working parents in the borough revealed an acute shortage of affordable child care, particularly after school and during school holidays.
The study also found little awareness of organisations that campaign for equal opportunities. 'National pressure groups concerned with women's rights and child care, and women's organisations in general appear to have made little impact in Macclesfield, either with employers or parents,' it says.
Child Care in Macclesfield Borough; D J Neil, 88 Great King St, Macclesfield SK11 6PW; pounds 35.