Maternity plans come under fire

Plans for parents to share maternity and paternity leave have met fierce criticism from employees groups that claim the changes will undermine women’s role in the workplace.

Under government proposals, maternity pay would be extended from six to nine months and mothers should be able to transfer some of their maternity leave and pay to fathers.

The consultation period for the White Paper, Work and Families; Choice and Flexibility, came to an end last week.

In its submission to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said the plans to allow women to transfer some of their maternity leave to fathers should be scrapped because they reinforce the assumption that it is ‘the mother’s natural role’ to care for a young child.

The government should replace any extra time off with paid ‘shared parental leave’, to be divided as couples choose, the commission said.

Campaign group Working Families said it was disappointed that the proposals offered so little to fathers in their own right.

Chief executive, Sarah Jackson, said the White Paper was based on the assumption that the mother should be the primary carer, and the father the primary earner.

“It is troubling, if we are serious about enabling both parents to realise their full potential at home and at work; tackling the gender pay gap; and tackling poverty among older women,” she said.

HR managers seem to be behind the proposals for mothers and fathers to share parenting leave.

Only one-third of 100 senior HR managers surveyed by law firm Eversheds said they were worried about the plans.

Forty per cent of organisations said that take-up of the present right to two weeks paternity leave had been low, suggesting that employers also expect a low take-up of extended paternity rights.

Government proposals

  • Maternity and adoption pay to go up to nine months by 2007
  • Mothers to be able to transfer some of their maternity leave and pay to fathers
  • Extending the right to request flexible working to carers of adults and older children
  • Make it easier for employers to contact staff on maternity leave to find out when they will return to work
  • Simplify the administration of maternity leave and pay for employers.

Could extra maternity leave damage women at work?

Almost two-thirds of HR managers believe that extending paid maternity leave could be detrimental to a woman’s career.

Fifty seven per cent of respondents to a poll of 168 HR managers by recruitment consultancy Spring Personnel said increasing paid maternity leave to nine months would cause career problems for women. Thirty-five per cent said it would help women in the workplace, and 8% said it would have no effect.

John Simmonds, managing director of Spring Personnel, said the perceived impact of the legislation on the recruitment and promotion of women of childbearing age was a real one. “Employers will anticipate significant costs and disruption to the company should the employee have more time off work after having a baby,” he said.

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