Statutory Maternity Pay will cover a full year, instead of the present nine months, if the Labour Party is returned to power in next month’s general election.

The pledge has been made by Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, Dawn Butler, who called the proposals a “step-change in how women are treated at work”.

Currently women on maternity leave are entitled to 90% of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then 90% of average weekly earnings or £148.68 (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

Under the new proposals, new mothers would be able to spend a full year with their new-born babies before going back to work — or the time available for shared parental leave would be increased.

Ms Butler also said that Labour wants to create a new Workers’ Protection Agency to work in partnership with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and with powers to fine organisations that fail to report their gender pay gap or to take satisfactory measures to close it.

In addition, a Labour Government would introduce changes to:

  • give all workers the right to choose working hours that suit them from day one of the job

  • enshrine the role of equalities representatives in law so that they have time and support to protect workers from discrimination

  • tackle sexual harassment in the workplace

  • require large employers to introduce a menopause workplace policy to break the stigma associated with the menopause.

Responding to the proposals, CBI Director of People and Skills policy, Matthew Percival, pointed out that the employers’ organisation has long supported the reintroduction of protection against third-party harassment and the extension of statutory maternity pay to 12 months.

However, he went on, “needing Government approval to set working patterns and company diversity action plans is bureaucratic to the point of being ineffective and unaffordable. They are the wrong answers to the right questions”.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director of Advisory Kate Palmer

As political parties prepare to go to battle over the upcoming election, Labour’s proposals are certain to get voters’ attention.

Employers, on the other hand, may be concerned at the prospect of having to pay up to an additional three months of maternity pay to female staff, who wish to utilise their full entitlement to maternity leave and pay.

While this is very much dependent on a Labour victory in December’s polls, small business owners in particular may worry about the additional costs such changes could bring to their organisation.

After all, paying for maternity cover can already be expensive without factoring in an additional three months of statutory maternity pay. However, there has been no indication that the existing maternity pay reimbursement scheme will be amended.

Therefore, businesses should still retain the ability to claim back a significant portion of maternity pay at a later date.

Last reviewed 12 November 2019