Government to launch consultation on flexible parental leave

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills will launch a consultation which will explore proposals for the design of a more flexible system of parental leave.

Speaking at an event on contemporary parenting, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the government wants the changes to embody:

  • Any new arrangement must absolutely maintain women’s guaranteed right to time off in the first months after birth, paid as it is now; and must protect the rights of lone mothers.
  • The reforms must transform the opportunities for father to take time off to care for their children.
  • It must be possible for mothers and fathers to share part of their leave, splitting it between them, in whatever way suits them best.
  • The new system must take into account the needs of employers and it must be simple to administer.

Clegg also confirmed that fathers of children due, or matched for adoption, on or after 3 April 2011, will have access to up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave and pay.

The leave may be paid if taken during the mother or partner’s statutory maternity pay period, maternity allowance period or statutory adoption pay period. Leave taken after this period has ended would be unpaid. The new provisions will provide parents with more choice and flexibility in childcare responsibilities and a more equitable sharing of leave entitlements.

The scheme has been designed to minimise the administrative burdens on organisations while giving fathers a greater opportunity to be involved in raising their child. Mothers will have the choice between taking their full maternity leave and returning to work early, allowing their partner to take leave instead.

Clegg said: “Right now, most parents simply do not have the flexibility they need. Despite the fact fathers can request flexible working, many feel reluctant to do so. There is still a stigma attached. And, when a child is born, men are still only entitled to a paltry two weeks of paternity leave. These rules patronise women and marginalise men.

“They are based on a view of life in which mothers stay at home and fathers are the only breadwinners. So in the coming weeks we will be launching a consultation on a new properly flexible system of shared parental leave, that we aim to introduce in 2015.”

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: “CIPD gives a cautious welcome to the proposals announced today. We will wait to see the detail of how employers will be affected and clearly there will be problems extending the existing entitlement to paternity leave in a way that does not increase uncertainty for employers.

“But it has to be right in principle to move towards a more equal sharing of the burden of childcare between mothers and fathers. There is no doubt women are placed at a disadvantage in the labour market by employers’ concerns about the likelihood they will take time off at some stage to start a family. If men and women have similar entitlements to leave following the birth of a child, this should go a long way to relieving employers of these concerns.

“The broad direction of travel is right – the UK needs to move towards a system of parental leave which gives mothers and fathers similar opportunities to take responsibility for childcare. Take-up of additional paternity leave by fathers will depend partly on the level of paternity pay, and partly on changing social attitudes.”

Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly, professor of comparative employee relations and human resource management at the University of Brighton Business School, added: “While it is good parents have more choices about how they divide the way the share and care for their children, the reality is while men continue to be more often employed in higher paying jobs, they are less likely to take up their share equally with women. But this may well change as some women are moving into more highly paid jobs.

“Some small businesses are concerned about the administrative disruption the extension of these rights will cause especially for small firms. But the legislation will require a fair period of notice for firms to be able to plan this.”

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