Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is under fire from business leaders after he pledged to “transform” the opportunities for fathers to take time off work to spend with their children.
He said he wanted to go even further than Labour had planned in giving fathers and mothers greater flexibility to share parental leave after the birth of a child.
In a speech to the Demos think tank in London, he complained that current attitudes towards child-rearing belonged in the Edwardian era and had no place in the 21st century.
His comments drew a furious response from business groups who denounced his plans as “virtually unmanageable”, warning they would stifle enterprise and deter firms from taking on new staff.
Mr Clegg confirmed that the Government would press ahead with Labour measures to allow fathers to take up any remaining unpaid maternity leave if the mother goes back to work early.
And he suggested that fathers could even be offered additional blocks of “use-it-or-lose it” leave, which would not be transferable to their wife or partner, to encourage them to spend more time at home with their young child.
Business groups, however, expressed concern that employees would be able to take parental leave in “chunks” rather than a single block, making it virtually impossible for firms to plan ahead.
British Chambers of Commerce director general David Frost said that small firms in particular would find it “too difficult” to implement, while Alistair Tebbit of the Institute of Directors said Mr Clegg was in danger of undermining the Government’s “pro-enterprise credentials”.
The CBI and Federation of Small Businesses were more amenable saying ministers needed to work with business to ensure the changes worked for both employees and employers. Meanwhile the National Childcare Trust welcomed the plans and urged him to go further and introduce 12 months of fully paid parental leave, to be taken by either the father or mother.
Mr Clegg said that the Government would consult fully on its proposals, which would not be implemented before 2015.