Gordon Brown has announced that the government will go ahead with plans to allow parents to ‘split’ maternity leave after six months.
The prime minister outlined the proposals, which were put on hold
by Lord Mandelson earlier this year, at the TUC conference in Liverpool today.
Under the new scheme, mothers will be able to ‘transfer’ leave to the father for the last six months of maternity leave. If the mother decides to return to work after the initial six months, this would allow fathers to take up to three months’ paid and three months’ unpaid leave – a huge increase from the two weeks they are entitled to at present.
However, business experts have labelled the move as an administrative nightmare. Simon Coates, a partner and head of employment at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said that the plans will increase the red-tape businesses have to cope with and make even more demands on managers. "Businesses should start working now to ensure their administrative systems are able to cope with the planned changes and that their employment policies are up-to-date once the law changes."
Yet business minister Pat McFadden said that the number of companies affected is expected to be less than 1% of small businesses. "We will work with business to make sure any changes are introduced in a way that minimises burdens and gives them predictability in the provision of leave," he added.
The CEO of Working Families, Sarah Jackson, welcomed the plans, saying it is a start in tackling gender inequality in the workplace.
"This small step will begin to make fathers visible at work, and may help employers reconsider outdated assumptions that care for a new baby will automatically be 100% the responsibility of the mother."
The government has said that, as a means of minimising the administrative burden on business, the change will not be introduced until April 2011, rather than April 2010 as previously planned, to give employers time to adjust. In addition, the government will not extend statutory maternity pay from nine months to a year, due to the significant cost to business.