The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has called on the government to introduce shared parental leave which would let new parents decide who looks after their children.
The commission has published a report this week that shows new parents want to choose who is responsible for childcare.
Under the proposals, shared parental leave would be equally owned by both parents and would additionally entitle fathers whose partners are unemployed to paid time-off, if their wife or girlfriend then returned to work.
Jenny Watson, acting chair of the EOC, said its research showed that a “social revolution” was taking place across the UK.
“Most new mothers and fathers want to decide for themselves how they share leave,” she said. “Our current laws are preventing dads from spending as much time with their children as they would like to, a policy which is out of touch with the views of today’s parents.”
New fathers are currently entitled to two weeks of statutory paternity leave, compared with 52 weeks for mothers – the most unequal parenting arrangements in Europe, according to the EOC.
The government will outline its plans in the Work and Families Bill this week. It has committed itself to increasing paid maternity leave to nine months by 2007 and to 12 months by 2009.
The DTI has been consulting on the idea of transferable maternity leave, which would allow women to transfer a period of the second six months of leave to their partner. But the EOC wants the government to go one step further.
The EOC proposal is likely to be met with strong opposition from employers’ groups. In its response to the consultation, the CBI said that while it agreed to the proposal of transferable leave, no changes to paternity or parental leave beyond that were necessary.
Employment law experts also warned that employees without children would feel increasingly marginalised because of mounting family-friendly legislation.
Feedback from the profession
The EOC’s proposal received a mixed response from HR professionals. While the majority are in favour with the idea in principle, there are concerns over the cost implications for employers and resourcing levels.
Beth Aarons, group HR manager, City Inn
“In principle, parenting should be shared, so to split this so either parent can have access to leave or share in proportions would be beneficial to both. It could open the floodgates for claims from other employees that they are being discriminated against by not having children.”
Joanne Francome, head of HR, Wirral Partnership Homes
“While I firmly believe in equality for men and women, I do think this would put an enormous strain on employers. Cost implications would be significant in male-dominated industries. The EOC needs to consider how it would be applied if both employees were employed by the same company.”
Jackie Bornor, head of HR, IG Index
“Anything that allows men and women the opportunity to follow their own path through life – whether that is career, parenting or a mixture of both – is a good idea. For commercial reasons, the option needs to be just one or other parent having time off.”
Judith Coslett, head of HR, Guildford Borough Council
“It will reduce discrimination against female employees as paid parenting leave could be taken by either sex. It also offers more flexibility to couples to choose which parent is best suited to the parenting role.”
Nicky Blatch, HR director, Ford Retail
“It would lead to extra costs, especially in industries that are male dominated. It may also lead to more men not returning to work after extended periods of time off. However, this would mean employers would no longer be able to quietly under-develop their female employees.”
Sara Edwards, vice-president HR, Maybourne Hotel Group
“For employees who do not have children for whatever reason, I can appreciate their frustration and annoyance as they do not have any right to request flexible working. This could lead to some tensions and perceived unfairness in the workplace.”