Employers have called on the government to give business greater assistance in implementing any extension to maternity rights.
The consultation paper published yesterday by trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt includes proposals to:
- Extend maternity pay and adoption pay from six months to nine months by April 2007 with the goal of a year's paid leave by the end of the next parliament
- Introduce a right for mothers to transfer a proportion of their maternity leave and pay to fathers to give more choice about caring for their children in the first year
- Consider extending the right to request flexible working hours to carers of adults and parents of older children
The CBI said the government needed to give business the right to more notice of return to work for new mothers and take back administration of maternity pay.
CBI deputy director-general John Cridland, said: "Maternity leave notification periods must be improved as current arrangements leave too much room for uncertainty,” he said.
“Return to work notice periods should be increased to three months and employers need to be able to contact mothers during maternity leave to confirm when they will be returning to work."
He said that the right for mothers to transfer a proportion of their maternity leave and pay to fathers could be an administrative nightmare and it would be unreasonable to expect firms to police this system.
“The government must present business with an easy administration system to co-ordinate shared maternity leave,” Cridland said.
Richard Wilson, head of business policy at the IoD, said research showed 75% of employers believe that it is morally right to have family-friendly practices, believing such policies improve productivity, staff-retention, employee recruitment and staff morale.
"What is clear from our own research is that employers generally want to adopt family friendly policies, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it makes good business sense,” he said.
“That said, businesses, particularly smaller businesses, need much more assistance from government to implement these policies.”
The IoD also said that an extension of the right to request flexible work from parents with children aged under six to carers who look after sick or disabled relatives and to parents of older children could be manageable, but that everything depends on the detail.