Maternity leave 'should be curbed'
MATERNITY leave is 'excessively onerous' on business and should be curbed, according to a county MP.
Mel Stride for Central Devon said he supported employment rights but argued the entitlement for new mothers had become 'out of balance'.
The UK had among the most generous leave in the world he argued, and highlighted problems it caused for employers, particularly small businesses.
He pressed for greater flexibility in the labour market, arguing future competitors would include China and India.
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But his comments have sparked criticism with Mr Stride being branded 'out of touch'.
Mr Stride, who is a ministerial aide, raised the issue of increasing the flexibility of labour markets during a recent parliamentary debate.
He told MPs: "The reason is that we are competing in an internationally competitive global marketplace in which our future competitors are not going to be simply the likes of France and Germany, as we will increasingly be bumping shoulders with the likes of China and India, which have extremely flexible labour markets indeed."
Mr Stride added: "I think we should take some further action, and I strongly believe in the comments made by the likes of the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses to the effect that we should look at the area of employment-protected leave of absence or maternity and paternity leave, and particularly at how it affects small businesses and micro-businesses."
He agreed with the principle of employment rights. "That is my starting point, but I believe that our balance has become out of balance: it is now too much in favour of rights and there is too little emphasis on the onerous provisions that apply to businesses," Mr Stride said.
While the UK did not have the most generous maternity rights in the world, it was among the most generous he argued.
In Australia, the entitlement is to 18 weeks, in Greece to 17 weeks, and in India it is 12 weeks, while in the UK it was 52 weeks.
This caused a series of problems for employers, particularly smaller firms.
This included contribution to maternity pay, continued work-related benefits, and accrued holiday.
There was also the uncertainty that staff did not have to inform their employers whether they would be returning to work 'until the 11th hour'.
Mr Stride said: "One of the problems with excessively onerous employment rights of this nature is that they build up a fair amount of resentment among existing members of the work force who are often expected to work longer hours or, indeed, to change the pattern of their work in order to accommodate the person who is absent."
He added: "In no way do I wish to attack the notion of rights of this kind. I think that they are very important, for the reasons that I have given, but I hope that the Government will look closely at the balance in how they operate, particularly in the case of micro-businesses employing 10 people or fewer."
But former Labour South West Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "I think comments like this show how out of touch Mr Stride and other Tory MPs are with ordinary people's lives.
"Our maternity leave is still relatively ungenerous compared with most other European countries."
He thought politicians would be supportive of family life.