Equalities group Fathers Direct calls on government to equalise childcare leave in bid to close gender pay gap

The government’s focus on childcare leave should switch from women to men to help eradicate the gender pay gap, according to a leading equalities campaigner.

Duncan Fisher, chief executive of lobby group Fathers Direct, has called on the government to give men the same amount of paternity leave as women receive with maternity leave, and to encourage employers to treat both sexes equally.

Equalities groups have claimed the single biggest driver of the gender pay gap, currently 17% for full-time workers, is the unequal sharing of caring responsibilities. Currently, women are entitled to 12 months’ maternity leave compared with just the official two weeks fathers enjoy.

Fisher told Personnel Today: “Men should be entitled to the same amount of leave as women. The government has focused on changing the caring constraints on women, but that can lead to embedding inequality as women have different rights to men.”

Sarah Twite, diversity manager at law firm Clifford Chance, said companies often expected women to take more leave than men.

“Employer policies are often led by the law. Employers are not used to men asking for time off and it’s not automatically in men’s psyche, so they don’t ask.”

But Sarah Jackson, chief executive of the Working Families charity, warned that giving men the same leave as women would be too costly for business.

“Employers must communicate better to male employees that they are entitled to flexible working, as currently line managers have a bias that women [only] should take it,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform reiterated the government’s commitment to introduce up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave by 2010.

“The new arrangements will give fathers a greater opportunity to be involved in the upbringing of their child,” she said.

Unequal opportunities

Mothers

  • 52 weeks’ leave
  • 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay – six weeks at 90% of average weekly wage, then 33 weeks at £112.75 per week or 90% of weekly earnings if lower

Fathers

  • Two weeks’ paid paternity leave and up to 13 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child under five
  • Statutory paternity pay at same rate as women

Source: Hammonds

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