Six months' paternity leaves businesses reeling

FATHERS will be given up to six months' paternity leave to enable mothers to return to work earlier, the government has announced.

The proposals will extend paternity leave to allow fathers to take three months' paid and three months' unpaid leave, despite concern that the move will adversely affect businesses struggling to cope with the economic crisis.

From April 2011, fathers will have the legal right to take the place of the mother at home for the last three months of her nine-month paid maternity leave.

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During that three-month period, fathers would be able to take home the statutory government pay of 123 a week. Fathers would then be allowed to take another three months of unpaid leave – giving families with both parents a total of 12 months' leave after the birth of a child.

Currently, fathers are only entitled to two weeks' paid paternity leave. Mothers get 52 weeks' maternity leave, of which up to 39 weeks (nine months) are paid.

The government hopes that the new arrangement will help mothers who are keen to resume their career to return to work sooner than they can at the moment.

Charities welcomed the deal, which they said would give families greater flexibility over which partner stays at home. However, the proposal, which will apply in Scotland, was attacked by business leaders, who argued that introducing more red tape at a time of financial hardship would harm the economy.

David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "In order for businesses to get on with creating jobs, the constant threat of tinkering to employment law – from both parties – must stop."

Julian Hunt, of the Food and Drink Federation, said: "Given the fragility of the economic recovery, it is madness to announce yet another regulatory measure that will generate extra burden for employers.

"This is no time for government to be increasing costs on businesses that have already had to deal with the recession, especially smaller businesses and those already struggling to keep their heads above water."

The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland was also concerned about the added bureaucracy. "During a tough economic period, any change to employment law is going to give rise to concern," a spokesman said.

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"Over 90 per cent of Scottish businesses employ fewer than ten people, so the government needs to make sure the implementation of any change in the law takes account of how small firms will be affected. In particular, the associated bureaucracy and form filling must be kept to a minimum."

But the government insisted that the upheaval would be manageable. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said the measure would affect only 1 per cent of small businesses across the UK.

The department has estimated that only between 4 and 8 per cent of those men who qualify for the extra leave will take up the offer.

At the moment, the amount of paid leave available to British fathers is far less than other countries. In Italy, fathers are allowed 30 weeks, Danish fathers get 35 weeks, while in Finland fathers are permitted 30 weeks and Canada allows 40 weeks.

Yesterday's announcement was seen as a victory for Harriet Harman, the equality minister, over Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, who was said to have been against the proposal, fearing it would harm business.

Ms Harman said: "This gives families radically more choice and flexibility in how they balance work and care of children, and enables fathers to play a bigger part in bringing up their children."

It was also welcomed by Elizabeth Duff, of the National Childbirth Trust. "The current situation undermines the importance of parenthood for fathers – and reduces opportunities for dads to spend time with their children," she said.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it supported fatherhood and small businesses.


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'It is best to have two loving, equally involved parents'

THE time that fathers are actively engaging with their children has risen 200 per cent over the last generation. Fathers today are more involved with childcare and housework than their own fathers and they do want to get up and change nappies in the middle of the night.

Increased father involvement is not just best for baby, but better for their parents' too, as both feel more satisfied in the relationship. The UK has been lagging behind most countries in Europe which allow parental leave to be taken by mothers or fathers after the first few months of their child's life. Parents around the world get better choice than we do.

Our outdated parental leave system just reinforces the idea that fathers are providers and mothers are carers. The result is a gender pay gap, women making career sacrifices, frustrated mums and dads, and children who are losing out. Research tells us that fathers are just as good as mothers at caring for their child. No matter how young or old the child is it is best for them to have two loving, equally involved parents sharing the care. A leave system that doesn't recognise this is absurd.

There is also a business argument. Britain is losing billions of pounds every year due to the underuse of women's skills. Shorter periods of parental leave can be less problematic for employers and women would be more likely to return to work and less likely to opt for part-time work. So with a half smile Families Need Fathers (FNF) welcomes the proposal.

This is no doubt a step in the right direction towards allowing both parents to fulfil their responsibilities from day one. What needs to come next is for "maternity" and "paternity" leave to be replaced with an allocation of parental leave to be divided between parents as they see fit, allowing them to choose how they work and parent.

It has taken more than ten years of campaigning by FNF for the government to realise that the world has moved on from the "pipe and slippers" stereotype of the father.

• Becky Jarvis is a policy officer for Families Need Fathers.


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'Businesses can't afford employment costs to rise inexorably'

DESPITE the emergence of the UK economy from recession, all the indicators are pointing to a bumpy ride over the course of this year and the next, as we look to keep our heads above water and build the foundations for future growth.

In this context, it is simply not good business sense for the government to plan new employment regulations and taxes that will cost British businesses 25.6 billion over four years.

The new paternity regulations announced this week will be very difficult for businesses to plan for and will make life more challenging for small businesses in particular, many of which are working hard to stay competitive within tight margins.

Many employers in Scotland have for some time been engaging with staff in order to find practical solutions to address issues of work/life balance and are developing creative and flexible approaches aimed at satisfying the needs of both employer and employee. Such a consensual and progressive approach is far more conducive to good business practice than further costly legislative rules and regulations, which may cause more harm than good.

However, our objections are not just about this one piece of employment regulation; they are based on the fact that businesses will be faced with a barrage of employment legislation over the next few years, including the Equality Bill, the Agency Workers Directive and pensions reform.

On top of all of this is the planned rise in National Insurance next year, which alone will cost business 14bn.

Scottish businesses cannot afford for employment costs to rise seemingly inexorably, as this could have an adverse impact on future job creation.

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We are calling for the UK government to show international leadership and to work with other European nations to create a three-year moratorium on new employment regulation.

It is only by reducing the costs associated with employment that we can compete on a global stage and create the jobs that Scotland needs to grow our economy towards a position of strength. Business is gearing up to get on with the task of creating new wealth and jobs. Government's role is to support this, rather than hinder it with further regulation.

• Garry Clark is head of policy and public affairs at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

'Current system is hard for fathers'

FOR Neil Wright, the government's move to extend paternity leave is a positive step.

As the father of a two-year-old boy Archie, he is well aware of the demands that are placed on a family by a new arrival.

His wife Susan is expecting their second child in June.

"I think this is a good thing," said Mr Wright, 37, a residential care officer with Edinburgh City Council. "If you've got a two-parent family the way the legislation is at the moment make things quite hard for the father.

"I believe extra time off for dads is good for them and helps them bond with their children. Studies have shown that the first three years of a child's life are the most important.

"I just wish I could have had that sort of time off with our first child. I am definitely in favour of it and I think it should have been brought in a lot earlier."

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Mr Wright conceded, however, that some small businesses might have difficulties with the new arrangement. "I work in the public sector. But I can understand if views might be different in the private sector. It's been said that we're coming out of a recession, but I can't see private employers paying for fathers to have this time off."

A big disappointment for Mr Wright was that he will not be eligible for the new paternity deal, as it does not come into force until April 2011. "Unless number three comes along," he added.