Conservatives tackle flexible working and parental leave at conference

The Conservatives will today reiterate their plans for improved flexible working and parental leave at a conference in London discussing the future of work.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May will call for a further extension to the right to request flexible working, and to outline plans to allow parents to divide the current period of maternity leave – 39 weeks – between them.

In a brief essay put forward to the Working Families conference, published today, May calls for the right to request flexible working to be extended to parents with children aged 18 or under – two years older than the recent government review allowed.

She added: “We will introduce a system of flexible parental leave in which parents will have the period of paid maternity leave, currently 39 weeks, between them. The first 14 weeks would apply automatically to the mother, allowing her to recover from childbirth. However, it would then be for the parents to decide how to use the remaining time.”

Last week the Labour government published draft regulations of its plans to reform paternity leave. They propose that from April 2011, mothers can transfer up to six months of their maternity leave to the father, provided the mother returns to work. This may or may not be paid leave, depending upon the amount of statutory maternity pay already received by the mother.

Women’s minister Harriet Harman, wth Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and several industry experts and HR professionals have also submitted brief essays on work and family life in the future, published today at the conference.

In her essay submitted to the conference, Harman vowed to step up action to increase awareness of flexible working rights for carers. She said: “Family carers will get additional protection in the Equality Bill, which is currently going through parliament. It will strengthen the law to protect carers from discrimination.”

Topics up for discussion include paternity leave, generation Y, the changing nature of work, skills, and employee engagement.

[Edited at 13:58: Ministers were not present at today’s conference.]

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