At the end of the last decade UK employers were more likely than almost any
others in Europe to introduce enhanced statutory paternity leave.
Rather than indicating superior provision, UK leadership was due to a low
baseline – fathers had no rights in the first place. This was unlike the
majority of European countries where the law provides working fathers with
rights to unpaid parental leave and to some paid time off when their children
The EU Directive on Parental Leave has since put the UK on par with the rest
of Europe, and two weeks’ paid paternity leave is promised from 2003.
Four out of 10 UK employers chose to make provisions prior to the Directive
which demonstrates a shift in awareness. For too long family friendly policies
were simply equated with policies for working mothers.
Other European countries, particularly in the Nordic region, moved much
earlier to acknowledge fathers’ rights.
After over 20 years of the formal right to take time off for family
responsibilities, 40 per cent of Nordic fathers actually take up their rights,
encouraged by tax penalties if they don’t and generous financing at about 80
per cent of average salaries if they do.
Financial reasons are not the only incentives. Employers are increasingly
recognising that time at home is not simply lost time – the challenges of
organising a busy household can provide new skills and experiences and add new
facets to personal development.
The next challenge to the scope of family leave comes from across the
Atlantic. In the US, family leave is not limited to care for young children but
includes everyone in the family from the spouse to elderly relatives. And – in
the spirit of flexible working – leave entitlements can be taken in units of
six minutes rather than one week at a time as in the UK.