Sep 16 2009
Robin Turner, Western Mail
FATHERS could take up to six months’ paternity leave – three of them paid – under Government plans to let parents share their entitlements.
The move, announced yesterday, would give mothers the option to return to work after six months, enabling fathers to stay at home instead for the remainder of the 12 months off allowed by law.
The new right, due to come into force from 2011, would apply during the second half of a baby’s first year if the mother returned to the workplace.
But the Government conceded that take-up was likely to be low, with less than one in 16 fathers expected to leave work for a period of full-time childcare.
At present fathers are entitled to two weeks’ paid leave and mothers to 52 weeks off – 39 of which are paid.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, commenting on the proposal in his speech to the TUC in Liverpool yesterday, said: “Labour believes in giving couples more freedom, dads more rights and children more time with the two people who love them most.”
The Government intends to have the new law in place by April 2010, affecting parents of children due on or after April 3, 2011.
The move was criticised by business leaders last night.
Russell Lawson, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, said: “In terms of pure cost it will not be such a big blow to small enterprises.
“But the administration will be a real headache, you could have a three-or-four-person business having to deal with the blue chip company down the road to check if this person or that person has really gone back to work.
“At this time of economic hardship is it really right to burden businesses with this extra hassle?”
Nia Godsmark of Swansea’s John Collins and Partners Solicitors, also believes the new rights could cause problems for employers across Wales.
She said: “While this may seem a welcome leap towards ensuring equality, employers are right to be concerned about how this is going to impact on them.
“Worryingly, the Government does not intend to bring in any universal monitoring system which will allow employers to be certain that employees are indeed entitled to this leave.
“The regulation of this change is firmly in the hands of the employers.
“With these changes scheduled to come into force in less than 18 months, employers will be forced into considering their own internal processes and policies now, if they are not to be caught out.”
The move received a cautious welcome from first-time and expectant fathers yesterday.
Ian Tetlow, 34, of Cardiff, a self-employed IT consultant, became a father for the first time a fortnight ago when his partner Alison, 33, gave birth to baby Harley, who is now recovering well after suffering a punctured lung during the birth and spending time in intensive care.
Mr Tetlow said: “As a self-employed person I can’t see the new extended paternity rights affecting me because if I don’t work, I don’t get paid.
“There are a lot of self employed people across Wales who will be in the same position so this does not affect everyone, but in principle it can only be a good thing.”
Ryan Heeger, 35, of Birchgrove, Cardiff, a web editor, and his primary school teacher partner Hannah Fowler, also 35, are expecting their first child on October 25.
Mr Heeger said: “I already have an understanding employer who allows me to work one day a week at home.
“When it comes to having paid time off to be a father, that can only be a good thing.”
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of charity Working Families, welcomed the news yesterday but added the Government could still do more.
She said: “We’d prefer to see a much stronger right, an independent right to properly paid time-off for all fathers, not a transferable right available only to those fathers whose partners choose to return to work before the end of their maternity leave.
“Experience in other European countries shows that this is what works best, and is most likely to lead to greater involvement with their children by fathers. But until then, this is a good start.”
Extended paternity rights were promised in Labour’s 2005 general election manifesto alongside a “goal” to extend paid maternity leave to a full year.
But Mr Brown only said yesterday that Labour “retains its ambition” to move towards a full year of paid maternity leave.
He said that was something which would now go out to consultation with business, industry and parents.
Business Minister, Pat McFadden, said the impact of the new rights on businesses would be small, affecting less than 1% of small firms.