Currently fathers get just two weeks leave after the birth of their child, but the new legislation – which is being spearheaded by deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman – effectively allows parents to divide the mother’s twelve-month maternity allowance between them.
Fathers of children born after 3 April 2011 will be entitled to a maximum of six months’ paternity leave, which can only be taken once the mother returns to work.
Some of the leave would be covered by statutory maternity pay of £123-a-week if the mother returns to work before the end of the 39-week maternity pay period.
But Stephen Alambritis of the Federation of Small businesses criticised the plans, which will become law before the general election. He said: “Small businesses will want all hands to the pump, and having one out of a workforce of four off means a quarter of your staff being out of action.”
The CBI cautiously welcomed the plans but said the government needed to avoid a “bureaucratic tangle”.