Lecturers' leaders have rounded on employers for celebrating a breakthrough on improving academics' work-life balance while ignoring their claims for better maternity rights.
The Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff this week announced guidelines designed to improve the work-life balance of university staff. These contain details of new laws and examples of best practice on flexible working such as homeworking and career breaks.
The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association said the move "heralds a positive approach to equality and to enriching the lives of all in the sector", but lecturers' union Natfhe said the agreement ignored "the very starting point of getting the work-life balance right - proper paternity and maternity rights".
Natfhe submitted a claim for improved parental leave in April, pointing out that women in post-1992 universities got two weeks' maternity leave on full pay, compared with 26 weeks on full pay for women who work at budget supermarket chain Asda. Natfhe demanded 18 weeks on full pay and eight weeks on half pay, with adoptive parents entitled to the same benefits.
The union said the 2002 Employment Act, which came into force in April and improved maternity rights, provided the perfect opportunity for universities to review and improve their maternity packages.
Roger Kline, head of the universities department at Natfhe, said:
"Universities are doing the absolute minimum on maternity pay. We are disappointed that there has been no progress on our claim for improvements since April.
"It is particularly ironic that there is agreement on work-life balance guidelines when this crucial issue should be the starting point, not an afterthought."
Publication of the agreement document came as research from the Trades Union Congress found that those who suffer stress for at least half their working lives are 25 per cent more likely to have a fatal heart attack and have a 50 per cent greater chance of dying from a stroke.
The work-life agreement sets out basic legal requirements and lays down guiding principles on flexible working. It includes examples of good practice on paternity, adoptive, parental and dependants' leave.
Mary Stacey, independent chair of the negotiating committee, said: "I am delighted at this radical step forward towards meeting the work-life balance needs of all staff in higher education."