Cable proposes radical reforms to parental leave

New fathers would be allowed six weeks’ paid paternity leave – two weeks off straight after the birth with a month to be taken later – under plans being unveiled today by the Government.

Business secretary Vince Cable has announced a consultation into parents sharing time off after a birth. It is proposed that a total of seven months’ flexible parental leave should be granted, with four months paid, meaning new fathers could qualify for almost six months’ paid paternity leave if the mother returns to work.

The Modern Workplaces consultation also includes plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

Under the proposals, which would come in force in 2015, once the early weeks of maternity and paternity leave have ended, parents will be able to share the overall leave allowance between them. Unlike under the current system, this leave could be taken in a number of different blocks and both parents could take leave at the same time.

Crucially, employers would have the ability to ensure that the leave must be taken in one continuous period if agreement cannot be reached. They will be able to ask staff to return for short periods to meet peaks in demand or to require that leave is taken in one continuous block, depending on business needs.

Home secretary and minister for women and equalities Theresa May said: “We will extend the right to request flexible working to all and introduce a new system of flexible parental leave both of which will contribute to our commitment to closing down the gender pay gap.

“But where there is evidence of discrimination we will punish it, so we will introduce mandatory pay audits for companies that are found guilty of pay discrimination.”

Cable said: “These measures are fairer for fathers and maintain the existing entitlements for mothers – but crucially give parents much greater choice over how to balance their work and family commitments.

“Of course, I’m mindful of the need to minimise the costs, bureaucracy and complexities on businesses … we will ensure that businesses will still be able to take into account their needs when agreeing how leave can be taken.”

Business groups had mixed reactions to the proposals. Jackie Orme, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development chief executive, said: “We welcome the principles and ambitions behind these proposals. Done right, [they] offer the prospect of removing state-sponsored obstacles to those already noticeable long-term cultural changes, in a way that levels the playing field for talented, ambitious, successful women who also choose, with their partners, to become parents.”

However, she warned that she had concerns about the workability of some of the details of the proposals: “We believe that parents should be required to take leave in reasonable blocks of time – no shorter than two weeks – if the employer is not to be subjected to unreasonable burdens.”

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: “We are concerned by proposals to increase the total period of parental leave by another four weeks, given the UK already offers some of the most generous provisions in the world.”

Meanwhile David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, called the changes “absurd” and said: “Our economic recovery is far from secure, but ministers are yet again tinkering with employment legislation. These kinds of laws create huge uncertainty for employers and prevent them from taking on more staff.

“The proposed changes to parental leave are at odds with the growth agenda. While businesses try to get to grips with the changes to parental leave introduced just last month, the Government is already consulting on a new system. When will it stop?”

View further information on the consultation can be found on XpertHR.

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