Rising to the challenge of balancing work with parenting

(Title Image: HR Review)

Yesterday, AMs debated the Communities Committee report on working parents.

Critical Issues

Committee Chair, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East), repeated what the First Minister said about his desire to make a world leader in gender equality, but the report clearly showed there was a long way to go, with Wales having the lowest proportion of employers making flexible working available to employees.

“While we are seeing encouraging signs in the public sector, the majority of people work in private enterprise, so we need to change attitudes to and opportunities for flexible working in this sector also and there are a number of levers available to Welsh Government to influence such change, primarily through the economic action plan and the economic contract, procurement, and the advice and support offered by Business Wales.”
– Committee Chair, John Griffiths AM

Advice services for working parents were said to be heavily oversubscribed, he also called for better data on gender pay gaps and maternity retention rates.

Flexible by Default

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) welcomed moves by the Welsh Government to advertise internal vacancies as flexible by default and was going to guide other public authorities to do the same. She hoped this would extend to teaching staff as many women drop out of teaching permanently after giving birth and retaining them may increase the number of women headteachers – a post that’s currently dominated by men, despite there being more women teachers in general.

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) spoke of her personal experiences:

“My experience as a woman who brought up four children alone and the necessity to continue working during that period is a handy background, I believe. Taking part in the committee inquiry hasn’t been a pleasant experience, I must say, because we found that women are still facing prejudice, bias and discrimination at entirely unacceptable levels in the world of work today.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM

She added that being a mother came with a financial penalty and called for the Welsh Government to fix issues this committee and other committees have raised about their free childcare scheme.

Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) also praised the adoption of flexible by default working, but wanted job-sharing to be introduced for leadership roles.

“From my point of view, I recognise—and I’ve been interested in this for a long time as a university teacher—that the nine-to-five desk job is becoming increasingly obsolete, and flexible jobs are what we need, not least with the problems of public transport.”
– Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly)

Challenging Findings

Replying on behalf of the Welsh Government, Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), said this inquiry and inquiries undertaken by third parties like Chwarae Teg presented “challenging findings” for the government to consider.

She outlined measures to improve monitoring of the issues raised in the report, but she refused to discuss the Welsh Government’s childcare offer in any detail, saying it was part of a wider package of measures.

“But it is worth saying just this: that the childcare offer is not the only way of securing childcare paid for by the Welsh Government. We do have a number of other programmes that I know my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies (Minister for Social Care & Children) has mentioned in this Chamber on a number of occasions.”
– Leader of the House, Julie James

Nonetheless, the Welsh Government accepted many of the recommendations from the report and committed to keep reporting back to AMs on the progress made.

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