Maternity pay plans abandoned for new paternity rights

Nicola Johnston, employment lawyer at Pinsent Masons, says the Government’s latest proposals would put the spotlight on father’s honesty as they will be required to self certify their eligibility for up to 3 months paid paternity leave.

Labour’s decision not to commit to extend maternity pay from nine months to a year – instead making way for new paternity rights – has been met with mixed reaction from business groups.

The government had initially planned to extend statutory maternity pay (SMP) from 39 to 52 weeks at the same time as increasing paternity rights, which will allow parents to share up to six months parental leave after the baby’s first six months.

But the government today confirmed a date for extending SMP had not yet been set due to financial restraints, while new parental leave ‘sharing’ plans would come into force in April 2011.

Prime minister Gordon Brown refrained from mentioning the u-turn in today’s speech to delegates at the TUC’s annual conference in Liverpool. But he did describe how the paternity leave extension plans had been delayed a year, to give businesses more time to prepare for the changes. The new rights are now expected to come into force in April 2011, not April 2010 as planned.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said: “We welcome the decision, in the current financial climate, to drop plans to extend paid maternity leave from nine months to a year.”

However, the HR body was concerned the extra year’s preparation time for new paternity rights would do little to enable businesses to deal with extra paternal leave requests when they occured.

A spokesman told Personnel Today: “The new rights are not something employers can prepare for. The CIPD does not think it is sensible or necessary for two employers to have to talk to each other to verify maternity or paternity leave, it’s just an added layer of bureaucracy.

“We do think there is a necessity in moving towards allowing fathers more paternity rights, but any plan to achieve this is bound to be expensive and could only be implemented over many years.”

He added take-up of extended paternity leave was likely to be low as it would effectively mean fathers taking a significant pay drop.

Business groups have long-campaigned for the government to shelve extended paternity leave plans due to the economic downturn.

Katja Hall, director of HR policy, at the CBI, said employers generally accepted the need for fathers to have more paternity leave rights to help eradicate the gender pay gap. But, she added: “The changes must be introduced in a way that will not cause disruption for employers struggling with the recession.”

Fathers will be able to take up their new paternity rights on or after 3 April 2011. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said that current take-up of Additional Paternity Leave is less than 6% and estimated that take up of the extension will affect 0.7%, or 1 in every 137, of all small businesses.

A BIS spokesman said: “We have not yet announced a date for extending SMP. We are continuing to review the appropriateness of all new regulations due to come into force in the current economic climate. The timing of pay extensions has always been a matter for the Pre-Budget Report and Budget and will be announced in due course.”

Comments are closed.