Campaigners urge government to scrap shared parental leave

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A group of campaigners and unions has called for the government to scrap its shared parental leave policy, urging it to reform parental leave in the Employment Bill later this year.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was crucial to “urgently overhaul the parental leave system, not just tinker around the edges”.

“Both parents should have time to care and bond with their baby, without having to transfer leave between them,” she said.

Under current legislation, mothers can share up to 50 weeks of parental leave with their partner, and up to 37 weeks of shared parental pay.

Statutory shared parental pay amounts to around £150 per week, while maternity pay includes six weeks’ pay at 90% of average earnings and lasts 39 weeks, so can often be a more affordable option, unless one or both of the couple works for an employer that offers enhanced benefits.

Take-up of shared parental leave has stalled at around 2% of those eligible.

O’Grady added: “Without meaningful reforms, many dads won’t be able to afford to take time off work when their kids are born. And women will continue to shoulder an unequal share of care and be penalised.”

TUC has joined with a group of organisations including Maternity Action, the Fawcett Society and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) as well as the Royal College of Midwives and the Women’s Budget Group, to call upon ministers to report back on a consultation into parental leave that was due to present its findings in 2019.

Maternity Action has proposed a new model of parental leave that would give both parents non-transferable paid leave. This would increase gender equality at work as couples would not face having to take the best financial option but instead what worked for their careers, it claimed.

Director Rosalind Bragg said: “The pandemic has confirmed what we’ve all known for a long time – working mothers are on their knees.

“One way to redress the balance would be making it as easy as possible for fathers and partners to take on their share of the parenting load starting from birth.”

Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, said: “The point at which a couple become parents is often critical in establishing the pattern of who is responsible for childcare. Most couples want to share care more equally, but our current leave system reinforces traditional gender roles.”

The government has not indicated whether shared parental leave or other parental rights are under review as part of the upcoming Employment Bill, due in July.

A spokesperson told The Guardian: “Shared parental leave gives parents the choice and flexibility to combine work and childcare in a way that suits them, making it easier for parents to spend time with their children in those important early months.”

Insurance company Aviva, which offers up to one year of leave with six months on full basic pay for either parent, reported today that 99% of fathers employed by the company took advantage of its equal leave policy during the Covid pandemic, and 84% of them took at least six months’ leave.

Chief people officer Danny Harmer said the policy was a “welcome reassurance” to families during the pandemic.

“A key challenge with hybrid or remote working is that those with caring responsibilities, who are more likely to be women, become less visible unless organisations act consciously.

“Our hope is that policies like equal parental leave help to balance caring responsibilities between genders and remove any gender-based or carer-based barriers to career progression.”

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