Nick Clegg Announces New Parental Leave System

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The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has announced a new flexible system of parental leave to be introduced from 2015 with the aim of getting more women back into the workforce and allowing men the opportunity to care for their child. The proposals were outlined in October but in his speech on 13th November, Nick Clegg confirmed the plans. The new proposals are that a mother can opt for flexible leave at any time after the two weeks from the birth of their child either by sharing the time with the father, taking leave off in turns or taking the time off together. Mothers will still be entitled to the 52 weeks’ maternity leave and the pay will remain the same with 39 weeks being paid and no more than 52 weeks in total will be permitted. Couples will need to be “open” with employers and give them “proper notice”. Nick Clegg stated that these were major reforms at a time of continuing economic difficulty and so it was sensible to implement them in several steps rather than one giant leap. The TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber commented that the reforms would make it easier for parents to choose how they want to share their leave to look after newborn children and that it was good that parents who wanted to adopt would be given more support. Nick Clegg also confirmed a new legal right for men to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments. This announcement followed a previous announcement regarding the extension of the right to request flexible working hours to all workers to encourage a culture within the workplace in which employees have the confidence to ask their employer to change their working hours. Employers will be required to consider requests from workers wishing to change their hours to care for grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even the children of a friend or neighbour. Currently, only those employees with children aged 17 and under and those who have caring responsibility have the right to request flexible hours but this change will give all employees the opportunity to request flexible hours. Mr Clegg claimed the combined measures will give parents “more options” and professional women a “real choice” about how they balance their careers and family responsibilities while respecting couples who want more “traditional arrangements”. “So many couples feel like they are facing an impossible mathematical equation,” he said of current arrangements. “And it is an equation where the answer is almost always rigged. Because whichever way you look at it, the solution ends up with the mother doing more of the caring and the father doing more of the earning.” He said that Downing Street had fully considered the implications for business and that the administration of the new proposals would be “as light-touch as possible”. Whilst larger organisations may well be able to take these proposals in their stride, we do question how this will be viewed by small and micro companies. The Federation of Small Businesses have already said that they consider extending the right to request flexible working would place additional burden on firms and John Walker, national chairman 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”. What’s your view?

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