Parental leave Green Paper: the key elements

Proposals to give more help to new parents and greater support to the businesses employing them were revealed in a Green Paper published today, by Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers.

The Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice Green Paper sets out a range of options for consultation over the next three months, which will allow everyone the ability to state their priorities and preferences, before the Government decides which proposals to take forward.

The options include:

  • two weeks paid paternity leave for fathers

  • lengthening the period maternity leave is paid to six months

  • extending unpaid maternity leave so a woman could stay at home for a year

  • sharing any increase on existing unpaid maternity leave equally between the mother and father

  • increasing the flat rate of maternity pay – currently £60.20 per week

  • allowing an adoptive parent – either male or female – to take paid leave similar to maternity leave when adopting a child; and

  • increasing the amount of parental leave available to the parents of disabled children, currently 13 weeks.

The Green Paper also sets out several options on flexible working either through legislation or incentives to business including:

  • giving mothers who return early from maternity leave the right to work reduced hours for the rest of that time

  • giving fathers the right to work reduced hours until the end of maternity leave;

  • allowing both parents the right to opt to work reduced hours for as long as they wish, when the maternity leave period ends;

  • giving all employers the right to refuse a request to work reduced hours if it would harm the business;

  • exempting employers with a certain number of employees from granting any requests to work reduced hours, except for mothers for a short time;

  • a kitemark that organisations committed to an appropriate code might display with a mechanism for taking the kitemark away if opportunities for flexible working are removed. This would be backed up with a challenge fund for small businesses to meet some of the up front costs of providing more flexible working opportunities.

Speaking about the proposals Mr Byers said: “I don’t want mothers to drop out of the labour market because they feel they don’t have enough support or flexibility. We need to retain their valuable skills and experience. We also need to answer the calls from fathers who can’t afford to take time off to be with their new baby.”

He continued: ‘I don’t believe we need to make a choice between either helping families or helping businesses. The right policies will not only support parents but also enable business to recruit and retain skilled staff thereby increasing productivity and helping the UK to remain competitive.

“It’s not possible to take away all the strains from being a busy working parent but we do need a much more flexible culture. We need to know what working parents and employers would find most useful so that we can create a better balance.”

By Helen Gilbert

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