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Explanatory Memorandum to Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002

Background and Policy Objectives

4.Consideration of new rights for working parents was initiated by the publication in December 2000 by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) of a Green Paper Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice. The paper was designed to stimulate debate on a number of options to meet the needs of working parents and their employers. The Department for Employment and Learning issued the Green Paper in Northern Ireland (NI) for public comment. Following the Green Paper consultation, DTI devised and consulted on new options for leave and pay in relation to maternity, paternity and adoption: similar consultations took place in NI. DTI also commissioned a high-level taskforce to consider the introduction of flexible working arrangements for parents of young children. The proposals which emerged from these exercises are contained in the GB Employment Act 2002. The Act provides for the provisions to be implemented by regulations made under the affirmative resolution procedure. The first sets of regulations are intended to come into force for GB in December 2002.

5.Retention of working parents in the labour market is a key element in the strategy to meet the skills needs of NI. The proposals outlined at paragraph 5 below are also in line with the Department for Employment and Learning’s commitment to the Work/Life Balance agenda. The extensive consultation process in NI, outlined at paragraphs 8, 9 and 10, confirmed that there was support for the introduction of additional measures to facilitate balance between family and work commitments. It is therefore proposed to introduce, by way of the Order, rights for working parents in NI to match those available under the GB Employment Act 2002. Corresponding NI social security provisions to those in the GB Act are provided for by the Department for Social Development by means of the Social Security Act (Northern Ireland) (c.7).

6.Specifically, the Order will for the first time provide rights for fathers and adoptive parents to paid time off and will simplify existing provisions on maternity rights. In particular, it will introduce:

  • The right to two weeks’ paid paternity leave around the time of the birth of a child or around the time a child is newly-placed for adoption. Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) will be at the same standard rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

  • Adoption leave for parents adopting a child newly placed with them. As far as practical, provisions for adoption leave will mirror provisions for maternity leave. Adoption leave will be for the same length of time as maternity leave. Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) will be for the same period of time as SMP and paid at the same standard rate.

  • Amendments to existing rights during and after maternity leave;

  • A duty on employers seriously to consider requests from parents of young children to work flexible hours.

7.These provisions would be implemented by negative resolution regulations made under the Order. It would be appropriate for these to come into force closely in line with implementation timescales in GB - not only to ensure that NI employees have these rights at the same time as employees in GB, but also because administration of statutory pay is by means of the UK-wide Inland Revenue system.

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