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Ruth Kelly aims to improve conditions for working mothers

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Millions of working mothers will receive help in securing better pay and conditions with a government package aimed at tackling barriers to women's achievement in the workplace.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly yesterday announced plans to implement almost all of the 40 recommendations published last year by the Women and Work Commission.  The move followed a meeting with TUC leaders at the annual women's conference reception in Brighton and is intended to "transform the culture in Britain from the playground to the boardroom".
The announcement was widely welcomed by union chiefs.

It includes plans for a major new "Exemplar Employer Initiative" in which the government will work with employers to develop programmes such as helping women returning to work access quality part-time work, flexible working for women, and setting up job-share registers.

The initiative will apply across the UK and more than 80 companies, including BP, BAE Systems, Accenture, BT, and Centrica have already signed up. In Scotland, Aberdeen College, Aberdeenshire Council and North Lanarkshire Council are among those participating in the scheme.

The government will also put £500,000 towards a fund to encourage job shares among firms' senior management.

"Equality Reps", working alongside statutory union representatives, will be charged with stepping up awareness of flexible working rights and discrimination issues, and a new "Equality Check" will be introduced to help companies spot any emerging problems with equal treatment of staff such as determining the level of gender pay gap.

From April 2007 a national education standard will be introduced in schools across England to make girls more aware of non-traditional career opportunities and ensure young people receive careers information, advice and guidance which is free from gender stereotyping.

Ms Kelly said: "Today's parents find it difficult to balance professional and family commitments – the role of government should be to help them make the decisions that suit them and their families.  "The proposals we are setting out aim to establish a change in culture from the playground to the boardroom. Just because a woman decides to trade down her hours, doesn't mean she should trade down her status. There have been huge improvements across the workplace but we want all employers to reach the standards of the best."

Baroness Margaret Prosser, chairman of the Women and Work Commission, said: "I am extremely pleased that the commission recommendations are being taken forward by so many government departments. If government, trade unions and business continue to work together, I believe that we can make a real difference to the lives of millions of working women in this country."

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, said: "We warmly welcome this action programme. It promises to make a real difference to women at work, and is exactly the kind of initiative that working people want to see from the government."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: "We have been working closely with the
UK government on its response to the recommendations as they apply to Scotland. On those issues that are naturally devolved – such as school initiatives – we are developing our own response and ministers will present a more detailed proposal at the STUC women's conference in November."

For further information see:

Government Action Plan
Implementing the Women and Work Commission recommendations