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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Employer of the Year Awards

Thursday, December 8, 2005

At an event organised by ‘Working Families’ to honour the ‘Employer of the Year Awards’ Meg made the following remarks and presented prizes. For further details visit: http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/asp/home_zone/m_welcome.asp

 

I’m pleased to be here to join in honouring the very best employers. But before we get to the awards - the all-important sealed envelopes - a few words about Working Families.

 

Strong champions of work life balance policies, they keep reminding us that family and career do not need to be in conflict. I am impressed by the work they do in providing valuable advice to both employers and employees. They add to the debate by promoting the benefits of work life balance - for example their recent research highlighted the links between flexible working and productivity.  

 

I am very pleased that Working Families are hosting these awards again, and I want to thank them for their hard work in organising this very important occasion.

 

It was not all that long ago when business could refuse to employ someone just because they were a mother.  Even the civil service, often considered to have better working conditions than the private sector, could ask a woman to resign because she were getting married or became pregnant. 

 

Practices like these now seem archaic. Society has come a long way in a comparatively short time.   

 

Supporting working families balance their responsibilities at home and also make best use of their potential at work is not just a matter of fairness. It’s important for the individual involved, it’s important to society, but it also makes good business sense.

 

At this event, I know we recognise that getting the work life balance right pays dividends at the bottom line. Indeed employers tell me that they see the benefits through:

  • Higher levels of motivated and committed staff
  • Lower levels of absenteeism
  • Less staff turnover
  • Lower recruitment and training costs
  • The ability to retain skills within the organisation.

 

In September Government launched a report produced in association with both the CBI and TUC called “Managing change - practical ways to reduce long hours and reform working practices”.

 

The report illustrates the diverse and imaginative ways flexible working has been used to increase productivity. The additional benefit allows employees to achieve a better work life balance.  The case studies show the real gains that employers can make by challenging the way they think about work and focusing on the outputs of what the organisation delivers. 

 

This can bring about a change in the culture of the workplace. People at all levels can start to think more creatively about their work. Having more control over your work can have an empowering affect. There’s no doubt that where people feel they have more control over their lives, can exert more influence over their environment, they are happier. Happier at work, better moral, generally a more productive workforce.

 

Government has encouraging this win-win situation with a combination of promoting the benefits of work-life balance policies, alongside targeted, light-touch legislation.

 

The right to request flexible working that we introduced in 2003 has been a tremendous success, helping many parents change their working patterns. Almost a quarter of employees with dependent children under six have requested to work flexibly in the last two years.  Interestingly only around 10% of these requests are now being declined - compared to 20% before the law was introduced.

 

This success is due to the law's targeted rather than blanket approach. Organisations can develop their flexible working practices at a pace they can manage.  Additionally, many organisations are opening up opportunities for flexible working to more of their employees - not just those covered by the law.

 

Work and Families Bill

On Monday the Work and Families Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons. 

 

The principles behind the Bill are to ensure that every child has the best start in life. This will create more choice for employees in balancing their work and home responsibilities - helping business get the best out of people.

 

We consulted extensively on these proposals, drawing on earlier consultations with stakeholders including a Citizen’s Jury and a series of Round Tables. 

 

The Bill and the accompanying Regulations have four main measures. 

  • It extends maternity pay from 6 to 9 months enabling making it easier for women to make a genuine choice about when to return to work.
  • A new provision for fathers to take up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave, some of which could be paid if the mother returns to work. This will allow fathers to play a greater role in bringing up their children.  Something we know both mothers and father value.
  • A set of measures to help ease the administration of maternity, paternity and adoption pay, and enable employers to plan ahead with greater certainty.
  • The Bill also extends the right to request flexible working to carers of sick and disabled adults. 

 

There are 6.6 million people in Britain with caring responsibilities.  3.5 million of them are working.  Research suggests that three in five people will end up caring for another adult at some point in their lives.

 

At present many carers feel forced to give up work due to the lack of flexible employment.  Extending the right to request flexible working to carers will give them more choice and help them manage the different pressures and demands on them.

 

UKRC - SET award

As Minister for Women and Equality it goes without saying that I’m very pleased that this year these awards include the ‘UK Resource Centre award for Women in Science Engineering and Technology’. 

 

At the Department for Trade & Industry we know that the talents of too many women are undervalued.  An alarming number of women with science, engineering and technology qualifications are not working in these fields. This is a loss to the economy; the hard won skills in these areas are wasted. But it is often a loss to the individual women themselves - working in a different sector, often at lower level of skill with consequent reduction in salary, status, and future prospects.

 

A report, ‘SET Fair’ by Baroness Greenfield highlighted the barriers and problems that women face when taking up, returning and progressing in SET-related careers. These include lack of flexible working, lack of returner’s schemes, training, and the organisational culture to name a few. 

 

As part of Government’s response, the UK Resource Centre for Women was launched in September 2004.  It’s excellent that they are sponsoring an award here today. This is just one of the many ways in which they are working to promote existing good practice amongst employers.

 

Conclusion

Finally I would like to applaud the companies represented here. Companies who have been taking positive steps towards best work practice - whether it be embedding work life balance policies or increasing female representation within their workforce.  Some of the very best practice in the country is in this room. 

 

The success of such measures comes when the issues and barriers are identified at the very top. When commitment flows through the organisation, so that action can be taken to resolve them and progress highlighted.

 

I congratulate all the short listed organisations.  It is a real achievement to be recognised as a finalist in the ‘Employer of the Year Awards’.


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