Couples to share maternity leave under radical plans

The government has outlined more detailed paternity proposals that would enable parents to swap some paid leave between the mother and father.

A DTI consultation paper, which ends on 3 August 2007, sets out the idea that fathers could claim up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave in some circumstances, as long as the mother returned to work.

The scheme is designed to give parents more flexibility and choice in their caring responsibilities. Businesses have been invited to offer some feedback on the proposals.

Employment relations minister Jim Fitzpatrick said the move would give parents the power to choose the best balance of care for their child and enable them to divide the time they take off to bring up children.

“We know that people want greater flexibility to better juggle their work and family life and that fathers increasingly want to play a bigger part in bringing up their children.

“If a mother wants to return to work before her child’s first birthday, the father will be able to take some, or all, of the second half of the child’s first year as paid paternity leave,” he said.

Key questions remain about how the scheme would work in practice and how each parent would prove themselves eligible under the regulations. Despite this, Fitzpatrick pledged to keep the system workable for employers and straightforward for parents.

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the latest consultation did show a greater willingness to listen to the concerns of business.

“More and more employers are recognising the business benefits of offering flexible and family-friendly working arrangements. However, employers do have legitimate concerns about the complexity and administrative burdens of transferring leave from mothers to fathers – particularly when more than one employer is involved,” he said.

A previous survey by the CIPD suggested that two-thirds of firms could struggle with the rules. Emmott said it would be easier to simply provide 26 weeks’ leave to fathers and let families decide how best to use it.

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