The government is reaching agreement on allowing parents almost total flexibility over who takes the mat/pat leave for the first year of a child’s life.
This is great news, and sensible, and something I’ve argued for in a past post.
It came in the same week as the Tories announced a desire to see maternity rights lessened in the civil service (currently the exemplar employer when it comes to flexible maternity practices). A new policy is only as good as its uptake – it will only become widespread if some employers embrace this, pick up the baton and start to make it normal. When people find out I’m taking 6 months off they are usually pleased and surprised, and I like to think over time people will become less surprised (and maybe even stop using the phrase “full-time dad” – I’m always full-time, y’know?) But what hope for that if the state’s own employees are prevented from accessing these paternity benefits?
And the deal is not quite done yet due to arguments within the cabinet about “effect on business”. The same number of people will be off work – so is this an admission/assumption that men are more important than women in business? How do you feel about that?
(I never buy the ‘effect on business’ argument anyway. We’re in a recession, with a ton of people desperate for jobs. An employer doesn’t need to pay their staff in the second 6 months of mat leave anyway – so they can just use the money they’re saving on wages to a hire a temp, right?)
But – the big but with this – will employers allow dad’s to do this, or will they play dumb and pretend they don’t have to? Or will there be veiled threats about job security issued to men who express an interest in this? I met three first time mum’s this week who told me they and their partner tried to split the parental leave in the way I have, but their bloke’s employer just flat refused to give them 6 months off. They weren’t even allowed to take advantage of the existing provisions for parental leave, never mind these planned extensions.
As far as the law in concerned, an employer has no course to deny a man his legal right to this time off- it is non-negotiable (well, that’s my reading of the rules on Directgov). However, each of the three mums believed that it was discretionary, and dad’s can only take leave if their employers agree. It seems to me the government has a communication job to do to inform employees of their rights, and employers of their responsibilities… the law is on our side.