13 March 2013
New research has revealed that female workers in the UK are in a worse position than in other developed countries, falling to the 18th position on Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ (PwC) Women in Work Index behind a whole host of European countries and the US.
PwC experts commented that while some factors have improved for women in the UK, the rate of positive change since the recession has fallen dramatically. This is unlikely to be a surprise to those who are aware of the disproportionate impact wrongheaded policies like swingeing public sector cuts have had on female workers, who are more likely to be part-time, have flexible hours, and to work in the public sector than men.
The results of PwC’s research showed that women in the UK are now more likely to experience lower job security, higher pay inequality and to be unemployed than in 17 other OECD countries, only just managing to rise above Israel, the Czech Republic, and recession-hit Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy . Britain was one of the lowest ranked on the proportion of women in full-time work, which it was suggested is due to the lack of flexible jobs available to allow female employees to juggle childcare and their careers.
“Women in the UK are struggling against a backdrop of rising female unemployment since 2007, above average pay inequality and fewer full-time employment opportunities,” author of the report and Economist at PwC Yong Jing Teow said.
Head of People and Executive Board Member at the company Gaenor Bagley added: “The current workplace model is broken and does not provide enough flexibility. Without fundamental changes it is hard to see how any real progress can be made.”
The government recently had the opportunity to make these changes within its Children and Families Bill, which reformed parental leave and flexible working legislation. Helping women return to work following pregnancy and childbirth is a vital part of allowing them to progress in their careers, and sharing parental leave is a move towards providing them with this opportunity.
However, the Tory-led Coalition failed to create workable options for most families when it ruled that parental leave must be shared between parents in weekly blocks, or taken by the mother alone. This requires negotiation with two sets of employers, who are likely to have trouble arranging cover for workers who want to take non-consecutive blocks of leave, and businesses been provided by the government with the right to demand that shared parental leave must be taken in one single block – a right many are likely to use.
While this severely undermines the so-called ‘flexibility’ of the government’s plans, the rate of pay that men can expect when sharing their partner’s maternity leave is also too low to be a viable option for many families. Men are still more likely to be the breadwinner in a family than women and, at less than minimum wage, the amount of money they will receive for taking over childcare while the mother returns to work is likely to be unworkable for the thousands of families already struggling to cope with pay freezes, redundancies and reduced job availability.
Meanwhile, UK workers still only have the right to request flexible working conditions, and after the employer has given their request ‘reasonable’ consideration (a term the government is yet to define), they are well within their rights to deny it.
What’s more, the right to request flexible working conditions will soon only apply to some workers when the new Employee Owner status of worker is implemented. This hugely unpopular initiative will see workers provided with shares in their employer’s organisation in return for forsaking their right to request flexible working, adequate support during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, and the right to redundancy pay or to claim against unfair dismissal.
The Institute of Employment Rights submitted a consultation response outlining our views on Employee Ownership last year and will soon be publishing our response to the Children and Families Bill.
Meanwhile, we will be tackling the issue of female redundancy at our forthcoming Public Sector: cuts, privatisation and employment law conference, at which General Secretary of Unison Dave Prentis and senior officials from GMB, PCS, Unite and the TUC will meet to debate the government’s ideological destruction of the state and unions’ response to it.
Tickets for this event are running out quickly so book now to avoid disappointment for this conference in London or Liverpool.