New parents would be able to take up to 26 weeks’ leave together if they wished under Conservative proposals.
The government plans to extend maternity leave to 52 weeks by 2010. After the first 26 weeks, parents would be able to choose whether the mother or the father stayed at home.
Under the Conservative plans, women would be expected to take leave to be with their baby for the first 14 weeks, but the remaining 38 weeks could be split between parents so the mother could return to work, or both could stay at home together for as long as 26 weeks.
Conservative leader David Cameron said: “The world is changing. Men want to be more involved in bringing up their children. That’s why flexibility is a really good thing.”
But business secretary John Hutton said the majority of families would still need one parent going out to work to pay the bills.
CBI director of HR policy Susan Anderson said: “The Tories’ proposals to consult employers on simplifying and reducing the costs of administering parental leave are welcome, as are proposals to allow firms the option of transferring administration of statutory maternity pay, to reduce the cost and bureaucracy placed on businesses.”
New regulations to amend the provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act on pregnancy and maternity leave discrimination and harassment will come into effect on 6 April, a year after a High Court ruling requiring the changes.
Among the issues raised were points relating to the entitlement of women to contractual pay and benefits during periods of maternity leave.