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Parental leave and flexible working hours

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New parents will be allowed to share annual parental leave.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced proposals to introduce a system of shared parental leave from 2015 with the aim of getting more women into the workforce and encouraging men to take time off to care for children.

Under the plans, parents will be allowed to share a combined total of up to 52 weeks of parental leave and 39 weeks of statutory pay between them, taking that leave concurrently and/or alternately, subject to women who have given birth taking a minimum of two weeks’ leave (or four weeks for manual workers) after the birth of a child.

In addition, the right to request flexible working is to be extended to all employees.  It is intended to implement the flexible working proposals by 2014.

To make the parental leave proposals more palatable to businesses, plans to extend paternity leave from the current two weeks have been dropped.  However, flexible leave will be reviewed by 2018 and extending paternity leave will be looked at then.

The concession has only partly allayed concerns by businesses.  Adam Marshall, policy director at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the new proposals would “risk causing unnecessary friction between parents and employer and raise unrealistic expectations about the level of flexibility most businesses will be able to accommodate”.

John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said “Allowing chunks of maternity and paternity leave of as little as one week to be taken will place a disproportionate strain on small firms and will be very complicated to administer”.

Employers may be able to veto unreasonable proposals for splitting up the leave in small chunks.

Mr Clegg believes however that the proposals could transform opportunities for young people wanting to start a family and that enabling relatives and friends of working parents to change their working patterns will boost the economy.

The TUC has also welcomed the proposals.  Brendan Barber, General Secretary, said “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”.