Government drive for flexibility could backfire

The government is continuing its family friendly workplace drive with vigour and last week laid out its proposals for the extension of paternity leave and transferring leave from mothers to fathers.

The proposals show a welcome willingness to listen to the concerns of employers about the potential administrative complexity of managing this transfer. And the government has signalled its intention to come up with as simple a system as possible, involving parents self-certifying that they are eligible and making them responsible for completing the paperwork.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, conducted before the government published its proposals, found that two-thirds of employers thought the paternity leave provisions would cause either some or significant difficulties. So the government’s plans to alleviate as much of the burden as possible should be applauded.

But would it not have been easier to leave employers to confer a right to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave on fathers and let working families decide whether and how to use that?

And trade union calls for fathers to have the right to paid time off to attend antenatal classes, in the same way as mothers, go too far. As does the campaign by the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition – made up of unions, charities and campaign groups – for a new law to allow breastfeeding breaks for women at work.

To legislate for this would surely be madness, and hopefully it is not in the government’s thinking at this time. The CBI has rightly come out against the idea, saying it only makes sense if employers operate a workplace nursery. But surely organisations that do have one, already have informal arrangements in place.

Balancing the family friendly agenda is a tricky task. But introducing more legislation – albeit with the stated intention of increasing flexibility – will put a far greater burden on employers to be driven by processes and systems. Sadly, the end result might be to stifle innovation and best practice, which will benefit no-one.

By Mike Berry, news editor


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