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Business reacts to parental leave plans

Business groups have given a broad welcome to new reforms that will extend flexible working rights to all employees, and allow new parents to share up to a year’s leave to look after their newborn baby.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed that while women will have to take an initial two weeks of leave following the birth (four weeks in the case of manual workers), from that point on parents can opt to share the remaining leave as flexible parental leave.

Under the new system, from 2015 parents will be able to take leave in turns, or at the same time, as long as the total amount of leave taken does not exceed 52 weeks.

The right to request flexible working will also be extended to all employees by 2014, with the aim of supporting modern families and boosting the UK labour market by providing more diverse working arrangements.

The statutory procedure for considering requests for flexible working will be replaced with a duty to consider all requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.

Commenting on the reforms, Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations, said, ‘These proposals bring good news for business – not least a more motivated and productive workforce. Employers will be able to recruit and retain staff from a wider pool of talent, in turn helping to diversify our economy and drive growth’.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed the reforms, but warned that firms must retain the right to make decisions on a case by case basis.

The CBI’s Katja Hall said, ‘Flexible parental leave is a good way to support working families and businesses realise that this is good for retaining talent. We must ensure the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers’.

Meanwhile, the TUC welcomed the news, with TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber commenting, ‘These reforms will make life easier for millions of working parents. Businesses will also benefit from a more engaged workforce and a larger pool of people to recruit from’.