Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been accused of ignoring the needs of business as he pledged to overhaul the rules on parental leave, allowing mothers and fathers to share time off after their child is born.
Mr Clegg confirmed that the coalition would press ahead with measures drawn up by the previous Labour government, enabling fathers to take up any remaining unpaid maternity leave if mothers go back to work early, up to a maximum of six months.
But, in a speech to the think-tank Demos, he said that he and Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to go further and “transform” the opportunities for fathers to take time off to care for their children.
This could involve taking leave in a number of chunks, rather than a single block, or mothers and fathers taking time off together, rather than one after the other.
Fathers could be offered additional blocks of “use-it-or-lose-it” leave which is not transferable to their wives or partners to encourage them to spend more time at home with their young child.
While he denounced the current system as “Edwardian”, Mr Clegg promised that ministers would consult fully before making any changes – which would not be introduced before 2015.
However David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, warned that the proposals would simply burden business with more red tape and could deter firms from taking on new staff.
“Business is not against the principle of shared parental leave, but how is an employer expected to plan and arrange cover with this fully flexible system?” he said.
“This is too difficult for small businesses to deal with, and could prevent them from taking on staff at a time when they are expected to create wealth and jobs. The rigid rules Nick Clegg refers to and plans to abolish are the very same rules needed by business to help them plan.
“This is yet another example of rushed thinking. It suggests that the Government is out of touch with how to support business owners. This sort of red tape is like a sledgehammer hitting small businesses which should be sources of growth and jobs.”