The UK government has been busy drafting new proposals for developing the hotly debated topic of parental leave following the results of last year's public consultation: "Modern Workplaces". The proposals will soon see the implementation of the Children and Families Bill 2013 which intends to radically overhaul the current laws on parental leave.
Following in the footsteps of the Swedish style "Latte Pappa", the UK hopes that 2015 will hail the emergence of the "Cappuccino Dad" by encouraging fathers to become more involved in the daily care of their child. In 1974, Sweden implemented shared parental leave to encourage both parents to share childcare responsibilities; this has proved so popular that Swedish fathers now outnumber women at playgroups and coffee mornings (hence the nickname).
Why is it necessary?
The UK government has finally realised that more than one gender is capable of looking after a child and that women shouldn't have to suffer a set-back in their career just because of a biological difference. Deputy PM Nick Clegg went so far as to say "It's high time that the existing system of maternity leave is overhauled so that it's easier for women to get back to work. Current workplace arrangements for maternity leave are old-fashioned and rigid."
Shared parental leave will provide parents with greater flexibility in how to care for their child; make it easier for parents to balance work with domestic needs; and enable both parents to retain strong links with the labour market.
From an employer's perspective a business will benefit from having a workforce that is more flexible and motivated and is able to attract and retain talented women who may otherwise struggle to combine a career with domestic responsibilities.
How will it work?
The new proposals will allow a year's maternity leave to be transformed into a block of flexible shared parental leave, taken by either parent, concurrently or one at a time. To qualify, both parents will be required to follow a two-stage process:
i) parents must have worked for 26 out of the 66 weeks preceding the baby's due date; and
ii) must have at least 26 weeks' continuous service with the same employer when he or she intends to take the leave.
Assuming that parents satisfy the "test" then a mother will be able to end her maternity leave at any time following the compulsory maternity leave period by returning to work; the untaken weeks of the overall leave will then become available to the father to take as shared parental leave.
There will be strict notification requirements that each parent must adhere to before being granted shared parental leave, in particular the mother must give at least eight weeks' notice of her intention to end maternity leave and the father must give the same period of notice of his intention to take shared parental leave. The level of information that employees shall be required to provide in the notification to an employer is still the subject of consultation. The precise mechanics of how shared parental leave will effectively be implemented in the UK is still subject to discussion and the government is inviting employers, employees, unions and representatives to express their views on the proposals. If you wish to take part in the consultation, full details can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/ consultations; the closing date for responding is 17 May 2013.
It is unfortunate that these developments are not due to come into force until 2015 but they are, nonetheless, a step in the right direction. These proposals will enable fathers to take as much parental leave as mothers (perhaps even more so) and this is a giant step forwards. Whether shared parental leave will ultimately succeed will undoubtedly take time and much will actually depend on whether fathers intend to take up the opportunity or not. Still, we can only be thankful that the UK government has now finally thought of a way to manage childcare in a more gender-equal way.
What about the Channel Islands?
Although the Islands are not as enshrined as the UK in maternity / paternity legislation, certainly many responsible employers in the Islands are already paying heed and applying these provisions in the workplace as best practice. Therefore, many employers in the islands will be interested to know of the continuing trends in the UK and will no doubt watch this development with interest.
The Social Security Minister for Jersey has already expressed his intention to implement various maternity and paternity provisions at the end of 2014 (which are likely to include proposals for shared parental leave). Guernsey has yet to propose any such provisions although many employers have already seen fit to formulate their own maternity / paternity policies. Therefore, the outcome of the UK government's latest consultation on the mechanics of implementing these radical developments may be useful for the Islands' employers. I shall continue to monitor the UK's position and report back once the results of the latest consultation are published.
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