Modern labour market, flexible parental hours?

This week the coalition announced that it was considering extending the parental leave available by allowing each parent an extra month of paid leave and then implement a time share scheme.

Under current legislation mothers get six weeks’ parental leave at 90% of their earnings and then receive a further 33 weeks at an allowance of £124.88 a week, but are permitted to take a full year out of employment.

Men, however, are allowed to take two weeks off after the birth and are allowed to take up to six months of any unused maternity leave if the mother decides to return to work in the latter half of the child’s first year.

The new proposal guarantees that all mothers would still get the first six weeks off after birth but then both mother and father could take a further month off at full pay at any point during the baby’s first year.

After the first five months of the baby’s life, the next seven months would be eligible for flexible parental leave which allows parents to decide and share the time with their child.

This new consultation is part of a wider remit to change both employees’ as well as employers’ rights. It is also fits nicely with the coalitions plans to reshape family life.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, claims that proposals such as these are absolutely necessary to rebalance the work:family strains.

These proposals will take away a lot of the stress that families have as well as allowing both partners to continue to work and maintain their skills. This flexibility combined with a potential increase in morale could lead to great productivity with the labour market benefitting from a wider range of employees.

However, the proposals do not go without criticism.

The CBI oppose the changes citing how the UK already has some of the most generous parental leave rights in the world and any further increase would put a financial strain on companies.

Furthermore, the British Chambers of Commerce Director General David Frost commented: “At a time when the government is looking to reduce unemployment, making further changes to employment legislation is absurd. We have to ask the government what level of growth they expect to see from businesses dealing with yet more regulation.”

The balance between driving the economy out of recession via the private sector and enhancing family life is always contentious.

Having said this, a modern society needs modern proposals. Innovative policies such as these should be part of the wider need for new economics.

Now is the opportunity to change economic and business ethos.

We need more than ‘business as usual’.

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