New paternity leave laws- is six months too long?
New paternity leave laws take effect this Sunday, which, ironically enough, is Mother's Day. The new laws will allow new mothers and fathers to divide their parental leave between them, meaning fathers will be able up to 6 months off. Some think this will mean fairer jobs and others think that businesses will not be able to support the legislation. We ask five people what they think…
‘Parents worry taking leave after a child will affect their career’. So far, so familiar. But what’s so interesting about uSwitch’s research was that it was reporting Dad’s concerns, as Britain makes radical changes to maternity/paternity leave provision allowing, for the first time, a Mum to transfer up to 26 weeks of her maternity entitlement to her partner.
This change has the possibility to revolutionise how we use maternity leave in this country and eventually how employers come to view women, which I could tactfully describe as ‘of a certain age’. If Dads (and Mums) embrace these changes it could help end a culture where many still feel employing a women is a liability and perhaps, one day, we stop hearing so many stories on Mumsnet from women whose careers have ground to a halt once they have kids.
But how easy will it be for parents to make the most of these changes?
As uSwitch highlight the current level of statutory pay, £124.88 per week, just doesn’t give a real choice. Many Mumsnetters plan their budgets based on the larger income, more often than not the man’s. If you can’t afford to make mortgage payments the opportunity for extended paternity leave still feels a out of reach.
But perhaps most importantly attitudes need to change. As uSwitch found 26% of Dads were concerned that their career would suffer if they were to take the full paternity leave break, while nearly a fifth, almost 20%, were fearful of losing their job altogether.
We recently asked Mumnsetters similar questions and over 84% felt having children had made it harder to progress in their career. And 86% rated flexible ‘family friendly’ working hours as a priority.
So Mumsnet is launching a year-long campaign, working with employers like BT, Pizza Express and Talk Talk to help develop and highlight Family Friendly attitudes practices.
We want to see workplaces where parents don't have to deny that their kids exist and firms to state on the door that employees don't have to feel bad about asking to go to sports day, and if we start to feel good about the kids we already have, it might just help encourage Dads to think about taking paternity leave too.
We know that being family friendly is good for business too. Companies shouldn’t spend time and money training staff only to see them walk out the door once they've had children because their workplaces don’t fit with family life.
The new paternity rules, which are due to come into force on 3 April, will mean that more small businesses could be in the dark about when their employees will come back to work – adding to the burden of organising workloads.
The intricacies of balancing family life with work have always amounted to a juggling act and the issue is rarely out of the spotlight. This is why the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) believes that family leave should be tailored to suit each individual, as a one size fits all approach fails to adapt to the needs of a new parent. The uSwitch research clearly demonstrates this with half of the men surveyed saying they couldn’t afford to take time off.
Research by the FSB has shown that maternity and paternity leave is one of the most complicated issues in the employment field – half of small businesses rated maternity leave as very complex to administer. While small firms are the most flexible employers – with the majority only employing a handful of staff – they find it difficult to plan and forecast when someone on maternity leave will return to work.
Allowing parents to choose how they receive their statutory pay – and in return telling their employer upfront how long they will take off – will give small firms more clarity on when that invaluable and skilled member of staff will return to work.
At the Forum, we’re not opposed to the principle of parental leave being shared equally between mums and dads.
What we are opposed to is the fact that, from April 3, business owners will have to deal with a sizeable administrative burden created by the new legislation.
Employers will be the ones who will have to do all the relevant checks and liaise with the other parent’s employer to prevent abuse of the system. Business planning will be severely affected too – companies will have to make alternative staffing arrangements at very short notice, and recruiting a short-term replacement is rarely a straightforward process for a small company. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming and productivity almost always drops until the replacement is properly bedded-in.
We believe that if the Government wants to introduce vote-winning, family-friendly policies, it should do the leg work required to implement them. It could create a Government agency (or empower an existing one) to deal with all the admin and simply provide the business with the start and finish dates of their employee’s leave period - perhaps together with a subsidy to cover the cost of recruiting covering staff.
We’re even more critical of the additional possibilities Nick Clegg recently announced (which could come into force from 2015) of parents being able to continuously switch leave back and forth between both parties for just weeks or even days at a time on an ad hoc basis. There was even talk of grandparents and close family friends getting involved too!
This would be nightmarish from a business owner’s point of view. Recruiting stand-in employees for just a few weeks or months at a time – at short notice and especially for highly skilled roles – would be incredibly difficult and expensive for most SMEs who, as is so often the case, would suffer a hugely disproportionate impact in comparison with their big business competitors.
The changes coming in into effect this year will be time-consuming and difficult, but hopefully manageable. The changes proposed for 2015 would be incredibly ill-advised and would cause immense disruption to smaller businesses across the UK.
I’d be a fool to say the new paternity leave rules are anything but a positive step, but in my opinion it is just that, a small step – in the right direction maybe, but still leaving a long way to go.
We got the vote, we got equal pay legislation, yet decades later we still have only one in five female MPs and a large, lingering gender pay gap. If changes in the law take so long even to impact on the world of work and politics, they are going to be even slower to change attitudes in the home, where inequalities and gender roles are far more deep rooted.
As the research from uSwitch shows, just because they can, doesn’t mean all new fathers will be changing out of their business suits into milk stained t-shirts or downing tools in favour of a bottle and weaning spoon. Prejudices and gender stereotypes still exist, whether we like it or not. As long as men still feel themselves caught in the role of breadwinner and employers and co-workers begrudge dads the time off, the new legislation will do little to change this.
'The latest changes to paternity laws coming into force in the UK are welcome. The recent findings of a survey by uSwitch.com confirm that fathers are invariably pressured with managing a hectic 'work/ life' balance.
It is also notable and welcome that the British government in particular, has been pushing hard this past year for greater fathers rights. In particular Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, both of whom are fathers, have displayed leadership on the issue.
Fathers appear to be constrained by the longer term effect of taking paternity leave, particularly in relation to their job security and career progress. The net result of not taking up greater paternity leave could mean better financial security for a family in the long term. Balancing work and family life is something that fathers appear to be increasingly aware of. Although, given the high levels of unemployment in the UK, taking paternity leave might not be an attractive option at this time. uSwitch should be congratulated for investigating the impact of new paternity laws affecting fathers in Britain.'
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