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Government unveils shared maternity leave plan

 

Plans to allow workers to share maternity leave have been outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

 

The proposals, which were first announced by the previous Labour Government, will allow new fathers to take the final months of the mother’s maternity leave if she opts to return to work early.

 

All mothers would still be guaranteed the first six weeks off after birth, paid at 90% of their pay, while fathers would retain their existing two weeks’ paternity leave.

 

However, the new right will enable women who qualify for statutory maternity leave to transfer a proportion of their leave to their partner. The leave could be shared between parents ‘in a whole range of ways’, or divided up as couples see fit, according to Mr Clegg.

 

The Deputy PM also argued that the current rules are ‘Edwardian’ and ‘patronise women and marginalise men’.

 

‘Both parents could, say, be off at the same time if they wanted to be, and leave could - in agreement with employers - be taken in a number of chunks rather than a single block,’ he said.

 

‘Crucially we're also looking at what can be done to encourage men to take more leave. Possibly, for example, through use-it-or-lose it blocks reserved for fathers. International evidence shows how important these can be in increasing take up amongst men.’

 

While the move is likely to be welcomed by parenting groups, business leaders have expressed concerns over the proposals.

 

‘Measures like these will make it more difficult for businesses to function and actually make it less likely that they will be able to employ additional staff,’ said Andrew Cave, from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

 

‘It shows a complete lack of understanding of how small businesses operate and the pressures that are placed on employers with the existing maternity rules,’ he added. ‘When you lose someone on maternity leave at the moment you could lose a quarter of your workforce. This doubles the risk.’

 

The new rules apply to parents of children due or matched for adoption on or after 3 April 2011. However, the Coalition Government will consult on a new system of flexible leave which it hopes to implement in 2015.