More details emerge of shared parental leave
Fathers could take almost all of the first year after their child is born, under new shared parental leave scheduled to be introduced in October 2015.
According to the Telegraph, the Government is discussing a scheme whereby dads could share the current 52 weeks of maternity leave from two weeks after the baby is born.
This is a change on the plans for shared parenting when they were originally outlined. The original model proposed maternity leave of 18 weeks followed by 34 weeks of Parental Leave. There were concerns, however, that this model would have worrying impacts on employment rights, duration of leave and occupational maternity pay (the amount some employers pay in excess of Statutory Maternity Pay).
The Telegraph says the new proposals are not set in stone and cites a government source saying the Government is still debating the details so as "not to undermine business during difficult economic times".
The campaign group Maternity Action says it cannot understand why the proposals should undermine business since it is just about sharing existing entitlements.
A spokeswoman said Maternity Action's understanding is that both parents could opt to take parental leave together if they wanted to, but they would then have less time off. Parents would get a pot of 39 weeks' parental leave pay which would be equivalent to current statutory maternity pay - that is, six weeks at 90% of the mother's pay and then 33 weeks at around £135.45 a week.
She added: "We support the move to shared parental leave as it is an opportunity for families to make their own decisions about sharing leave. It is a huge step forward and recognises that fathers as well as mothers can care for their babies. But it is just a useful first step. Quite active measures are needed to promote take-up by dads."
Asked whether she was concerned that the change might put pressure on women to return earlier to work than they had planned, she said: "We are very concerned about the pressures on women in the workforce and about high rates of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace which have significantly increased since the economic downturn. The Government needs to take urgent action to help women remain in the workforce."
Maternity Action says such instances of discrimination are often quite blatant. It is also worried about cuts to advice services for women and the introduction of charges for taking cases to employment tribunal. These will mean that from next year it will cost £1,200 for a woman to take a pregnancy discrimination case to a tribunal.
An Equal Opportunities Commission report which came out before the recession already showed around half of all pregnant and new mothers had experienced workplace discrimination and that 71% took no action, not even seeking advice. Only 3% of cases went to tribunal.
"There is a danger of expecting women to resolve these issues individually," said the spokeswoman, "when it is a systemic problem."
Maternity Action are gathering data on how pregnant women and new mums have been treated at work. They plan to compile this into a dossier to present to Government when calling for better monitoring of pregnancy discrimination. You can access the survey here. They also have a survey for dads which can be accessed here. Additionally, they have been mapping stories of discrimination in the workplace from across the country. Mums are welcome to get in touch and tell their stories here.