Guest post by Dr. Tamsyn Dent
The statutory rights for parental leave in the UK are a minefield. In fact, the entire legislative employment framework on workers’ rights is confusing and wildly fails to reflect the realities of working patterns in the 21st century. Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, is proposing a bill in parliament today, calling on the government to extend shared parental leave to self-employed workers. This is a step towards creating a legislative employment framework that recognises changes in working cultures within the modern economy.
Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 in the UK. The legislation enables employed couples to share up to 52 weeks of leave following the birth of a child and 39 weeks of statutory pay. The first two weeks of that leave is reserved for the birth mother but the remaining time can be divided between both partners. It’s a confusing system and our friends at the Campaign for Parental Pay Equality had developed a useful table outlining who is entitled to what in the report they published in 2017.
There have been concerns about the slow uptake of shared parental leave by male partners, with discrepancies in pay cited as a key concern: the female partner, or birth mother if it is a same-sex female couple, is entitled to 90% of the salary for the first 6 weeks following childbirth, whereas the other partner is only ever entitled to the statutory £140.98 per week of paternity/adoption leave pay. A critical error with this legislation, however, is that it is only available if both partners are employees. If the female/birth mother is on a self-employed contract, she can still access Maternity Allowance (£140.98 per week for 39 weeks) directly from the state. If her partner is an employee they can still qualify for shared parental leave and pay, but a partner on a self-employed contract is entitled to nothing, not even the 2 weeks of statutory paternity or adoption leave pay. The current legislation doesn’t recognise or provide for any period of leave for a self-employed partner following the birth of a child.
The rapid growth of self-employment has been a pronounced feature of the UK labour market in the shift towards a creative-based economy. The number of self-employed people increased from 3.3 million people (12.0% of the labour force) in 2001 to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force) in 2017. In the past couple of years there has been a growing awareness of the very subjective and personal impact of insecure labour structures on the workforces that operate within them.
The Taylor Review’s publication ‘Good Work’ and The Trades Union Council’s (TUC) report ‘The Gig is Up’, both published last year, investigate the implications of a growing insecure workforce within a legislative employment framework that is outdated and not fit for purpose. We referenced these reports in our 2017 report ‘Raising our Game’, along with wider research into the impact of insecure labour markets, often termed as precarious working conditions within the context of the film and television sector – a workforce which has commonly been associated with fragmented, flexible and insecure working patterns.
A legislative framework that denies self-employed workers access to equal support following the birth of a child and denies partners to be present in the immediate weeks following the birth of a child is unfair. To give an example of the human costs of this legislation, NHS guidance states that women who have had a caesarean section following the birth of a child should allow for a period of up to 6 weeks for recovery. During that time a woman is advised not to drive or carry anything heavier than their baby. There are risks of infection and blood-clotting for a period of several weeks post birth. If her partner is self-employed the state does not recognise those caring needs. In the period 2016-2017 174,720 births in England were delivered by caesarean section (NHS Maternity Statistics).
There is a gap in the legislation that fails to grant basic human needs centered around care. Tracy Brabin’s bill is one step towards recognizing that it is people that carry out the work that drives our economy. Workers need the right to care for their families and the state needs to recognise and legislate for that right. At the end of her testimonial for Raising Films, Tracy Brabin wrote that she felt the film and television industry commanded:
Keep your personal life out of work. Deny your children and your life. Be a robot.
Brabin’s bill that allowed self-employed parents of all genders to share parental leave at a sustainable allowance would go some way toward addressing the negative impact felt by 79% of parents and carers working in the UK film & TV industry. Workers need to be recognised as people, not robots.