Working parents are to be given a range of new employment rights including extended maternity and paternity leave, as well as the ability to swap time off between mothers and fathers.
The DTI has announced that paid maternity leave will rise from six to nine months in April 2007 and then again to a total of one year by the end of 2009.
Fathers will also be entitled to extended paternity leave of up to six months, if the mother returns to work before her maternity leave is over.
In effect, parents will be able to swap a portion of their leave entitlement when caring for a child.
Other changes to the proposed Work and Families Bill include an extension to the right to request flexible working that will cover carers, and new rules that let women attend work for a limited time during their maternity leave.
Rachel Dineley, head of the discrimination unit at law firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs welcomed the changes, but said employers needed more guidance.
“There is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure these provisions are not unduly burdensome for employers, in either cost or administrative terms. Whether fathers will take up extended paternity leave remains to be seen.”
However, the GMB trade union said the proposals would “rob mum to pay dad” and called for better paternity pay with no strings attached.