Revolution for women at work: Labour's new blueprint to improve work-life balance

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Parents are to be given the legal right to work part-time and choose their employment hours in radical proposals for families being drawn up by Labour.

The so-called "workplace revolution" aimed at women will also give parents the legal right to paid sick leave if their children are taken ill.

In a new package of policies designed to enhance the "work-life balance", compulsory pay audits at work will force companies to reveal if they are paying women less than men for doing the same job. The minimum wage will also be raised to help millions of women, including cleaners and care workers, on low pay.

The plan for new rights for families, drawn up by the Constitutional Affairs minister, Harriet Harman, is designed to "draw the battle lines with the Tories over family policy" and will be discussed at next month's Labour Party conference.

The policy package will include measures to raise child benefit for second and third children to help families that feel they cannot have more children because they cannot afford them.

Ms Harman is a senior Labour minister, a close ally of Gordon Brown and a front-runner to succeed John Prescott as Deputy Prime Minister. Her proposals are being seriously discussed within Labour. She has a track record in crafting family-friendly policies, and chaired Labour's Child Care Commission, which devised the blueprint for paid paternity leave and longer maternity leave, which Labour introduced in the face of opposition from industry. She also crafted the policy of the Low Pay Commission which sets the minimum wage.

The pro-family manifesto will be also be discussed at the Trades Union Congress next month. It will be launched in a fortnight's time by Ms Harman in a lecture hosted by the Fawcett Society which campaigns to support women in public life.

The primary beneficiaries of the proposals will be women and fathers with young children, who will be given greater opportunities to work flexibly. But it will infuriate company bosses, who will see it as an attempt by the Government to regulate the workplace.

The proposals come amid Labour fears that the Tories are trying to "steal Labour's clothes" by appealing to parents and women voters. Polls have shown that David Cameron is winning back support from women voters who backed Labour at the last three general elections.

Ms Harman told The Independent on Sunday that the proposals to be debated at conference would represent "the next stage" of reforms designed to improve the work-life balance. She said they were based on the theory that "human capital is crucial to the economy" and the family was central to that.

"We are really upping the stakes. We need to have a robust and rigorous approach to public policy on the family. We need to have mandatory pay audits because we can't tackle inequality when it is hidden," Ms Harman said.

"The Tories have been forced to accept Labour's agenda of maternity pay and leave. It is now essential for Labour to make further progress. The Tories are eager to talk about families but not prepared to take the action families need. The choice for families will be between Tory sentiment and Labour action."

Under reforms introduced by Labour, current employees have the right to ask their boss if they can work part-time, but there is no obligation on them to agree. In the next stage of reforms being proposed, employers would have to prove that the job cannot be done part-time in order to refuse the request.

Ms Harman has drawn up proposals for a new statutory right of a parent to gain sick leave if a child is seriously ill and cannot go to school. Only one parent would have the right to take leave at each time.