Radical reforms will allow both parents to share up to a year's leave to look after their new-born children, Nick Clegg announced today.
The changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to return to work at a time that’s right for them, and create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy.
Under the new system of flexible parental leave, parents will be able to choose how they share care of their child in the first year after birth. Employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. However, working parents will be able to opt to share the leave.
Mothers will have to take at least the initial two weeks of leave after birth as a recovery period, but following that they can choose to end the maternity leave and the parents can opt to share the remaining leave as flexible parental leave. It will be up to both parents to decide how they share the remaining weeks of the leave.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said:
Our current system of maternity leave is antiquated and out-of-step with the wishes of modern parents who want much greater flexibility in how they look after their children.
Reform is long overdue and the changes we are making will shatter the perception that women have to be the primary care-givers. In the future, both mothers and fathers will be able to take control of how they balance those precious first months with their child and their careers.
This is good news not only for parents and parents-to-be, but employers too who will benefit from a much more flexible and motivated workforce.
Parents will have much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ their leave. They may take the leave in turns or take it together, provided that they take no more than 52 weeks combined in total.
The new entitlement will allow both parents to keep a strong link with their workplace, helping employers to attract and retain women in their organisations and preventing women dropping out of the workforce following childbirth. The aim is that women will face less of a ‘career penalty’ for taking an extensive period of time off.
Employers will benefit from being able to make the most of the entire talent pool that the increased flexibility allows.
New proposals are also announced today to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, to give greater choice and freedom to workers and businesses. This will remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers, allowing individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments and improving the UK labour market by providing more diverse working patterns. For example, grandparents could apply for flexible working to help care for their grandchildren.
The Government will also remove the current statutory procedure for considering requests. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. Businesses will have the flexibility to refuse requests on business grounds but the new laws are expected to bring benefits to employers as well.
The Government plan to legislate on this next year and will introduce the changes to flexible working in 2014 and to flexible parental leave in 2015.