Clegg: Increase paternity leave

DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg will today risk a row with business leaders as he announces a raft of proposals to reform the UK’s paternity leave regulations.

Industry leaders called the proposed changes “a bureaucratic nightmare”, coming on top of an overhaul of paternity leave already introduced by the last government.

Businesses are currently preparing for a host of rule changes that come into effect in April, when any woman who goes back to work before using up her 52 weeks of maternity leave will be able to transfer up to six months of it to her child’s father.

But Clegg will today suggest further changes that include: making maternity and paternity leave fully exchangeable between both partners in a couple; giving employees the ability to take their leave in blocks rather than all at once; and giving men a special “use-it-or-lose-it” assignment of leave in addition to their exchangeable leave.

The regulations will be intended to reduce sex discrimination in hiring decisions, with Clegg calling the current system “Edwardian”.

“These rules patronise women and marginalise men,” he will say later today. “They’re based on a view of life in which mothers stay at home and fathers are the only breadwinners.”

But businesses have called his suggestions an impractical burden from a government that only recently promised to cut red tape.

“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare for any employer to try and organise this,” Andrew Cave of the Federation of Small Businesses told City A.M.

“It would be necessary for them to not only chase up their own employees, but liaise with the employer of their spouse to make sure that they are not overstepping their allowances.”

Adam Marshall, the British Chamber of Commerce’s director of policy, said the group plans to lobby against the proposals.

“They claim to be a pro-business, pro-enterprise government, but this doesn’t look like minimising bureaucracy for companies,” he said.

“Businesses aren’t against having a more gender-neutral system but I think they will be disturbed by these proposals as it makes it almost impossible for some businesses to plan ahead.”

The proposals would keep in place the current minimum leave for both parents, which stands at six weeks at 90 per cent pay for women and two weeks on the same for men. But couples could chop and change any leave on top of this and would be able to use it up at any point within a certain time of a child’s birth, rather than having to take it straight away.