Labour plan to boost paternity leave a "tax on business", says BCC

10 February 2015 -


Business community slams Miliband scheme to extend term of fatherhood absence to one month, saying it would rob bosses of access to talent and raise cost burdens

Matt Packer

Leading UK business advocates have rejected a Labour plan to double the statutory time that new fathers can take for paternity leave. Unveiling the proposal today, party leader Ed Miliband said that the current, two-week term was “outdated”, and failed to reflect the current realities of family life. “At the same time as women are under pressure in their careers,” he said, “more fathers want to play a hands-on role in childcare – particularly in those first crucial weeks of a child’s life.”

He added: “Thanks to the last Labour government, fathers have two weeks’ paid paternity leave. Millions of families have benefited, with parents saying this has helped them support each other, share caring responsibilities and bond with their children. But the money isn’t great and too many Dads don’t take up their rights because they feel they have to go back so they can provide for their family.”

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) head John Longworth was among those who found fault. “Although well-meaning,” he said, “proposals such as this create very real costs for businesses, which can in turn lead to reduced productivity, reduced growth and fewer jobs. Businesses have already had to absorb more than half-a-dozen changes to parental leave in the past decade, with one – shared parental leave – not even fully in place yet. This constant instability raises costs for business and generates uncertainty when it comes to taking on new staff.”

Longworth further suggested that these multiple different frameworks for parental leave could end up getting in each other’s way – to the detriment of business leaders. “[This proposal] raises the spectre of a dad being off for a month, returning to work for a couple of weeks, and then asking for shared parental leave as soon as he is eligible,” he said – a situation he stressed could be “hugely disruptive” to small and mid-sized firms, “whose success depends on the talents and contributions of each employee.”

Joining Longworth in the “against” camp was Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chair John Allan, who said that the proposal was a cause for “legitimate concerns” – and could spawn further cost concerns for entrepreneurs. “The reality is that for small businesses in particular, extending paternity leave from two to four weeks makes it much more likely that they will have to buy in replacement staff as they will struggle with absences,” he said. “That’s a cost that some firms will struggle to afford.”

However, despite the protestations of Longworth and Allan, some high-profile organisations have already adopted management styles that exceed the scope of standard paternity leave. In the 2012 Working Families Awards, financial institution Citi was recognised as one of the UK’s Top 10 employers and – with London School of Economics (LSE) – jointly crowned in the Best for Fathers category. Much of that success was down to Citi’s Managing Parental Leave scheme. Under that programme, the company runs a maternity policy of six months’ full pay, transferrable to dads who decide to use the balance of maternity leave from the 20 weeks mark. That gives them six weeks leave on full pay.

LSE, meanwhile, has a fully integrated Manager Upskilling and Flexible Working plan for fathers of new children, of which the cornerstone is Balancing Work and Being a Dad: a detailed package of mentorship and training designed to tackle such issues as anxiety, the pros and cons of working at home and how to maintain high performance amid the demands of looking after an infant.

One voice who welcomed the Labour policy was National Childbirth Trust senior policy adviser Elizabeth Duff. “As well as the difference it will make for mums,” she said, “the more that dads are able to engage with their baby in the early days, the better their bond will be – so we want to see all political parties committing to policies like this that will give fathers more time with their new families.”

For more thoughts on flexible working, check out this previous Insights coverage.

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