Are the government’s proposals to extend paternity leave good for business in the UK?

A step forwards

Nicky Blatch
HR director, Ford Retail

The government is to announce that new fathers should have the right to six months unpaid paternity leave. Is it enough? With research showing that most men won’t take up the offer of paternity leave without pay – but a dramatic amount would if the payments increased – surely the new guidelines are an empty offer in an area of inequality?

The shift in parental responsibilities is such that the offer of parental leave for fathers is a great move towards ensuring that it is not considered the domain of the woman. Up until now it has been traditional for a woman to put her career on hold to support the formative months of a newborn child’s life. Fathers are keen to be present during this period. However, being the main breadwinner or not having the chance to take extended leave at this time means that they can miss out.

The new guidelines are a gentle offering that shouldn’t shake employers too much. The take-up as the guidelines stand at this stage is unlikely to be high. If managed well they could be a great opportunity for businesses to be seen to embrace the essence of the bill and to support their workforce at this valuable time in their lives.

In the corporate world, will this stop employers falling into the trap of wondering how long they have with a new female recruit before she leaves to have a baby? Will it encourage employers to ensure that women get as many opportunities to be developed and supported through their careers as men? Will it incentivise employers to do more to encourage female employees to return after extended time off?

It will probably help to slowly change the perceptions that we hope are outdated but are actually rife within industry.

Much more is needed to get employers to realise that both men and women must be treated fairly in the workplace and have the opportunity to provide equal support at home.

Too much too soon

David Frost
Director general, British Chambers of Commerce

While the government has vigorously promoted the family friendly agenda, employers have been less enthusiastic. Owners of small firms in particular have expressed deep concerns about the consequences that extending legislation would have on their businesses. The simple problem is that employers could face losing staff, both men and women, for long periods.

It is proposed to extend paternity leave and to extend the right to request flexible working to carers and parents with children aged up to 17.

A British Chambers of Commerce employment survey last year found two-thirds of the 1,200 employers surveyed opposed extending flexible working and 80% opposed increasing maternity leave to 12 months. Opposition grew as the business size got smaller.

Our members, who employ more than 5 million people, understand the need for flexibility. The DTI’s own figures show that employers have accommodated more than 80% of flexible working requests received from their staff. However, the fear is that these latest changes are too much, too soon, and they will come into force at a time when our firms are under immense pressure.

Employers are rightly concerned that these changes will undermine their ability to manage staff working patterns in a way that meets the needs of their business. There are also growing concerns that there will be unrest between those that do and do not have children.

The government must recognise that the UK economic climate is worsening and our businesses need support rather than more layers of costly employment legislation.

While maternity and flexible working rights are important in the workplace, these rights must be balanced against employers’ needs to manage their businesses effectively.

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