UK Paternity Leave Changes.

Here is a reason to allow Cleggie back in our good books (after tuition fee fiasco): he is rolling out a consultation to encouragemore paternity leave by 2015. The current allowance in the UK is 2 weeks btw (still better than the Dutch 2 days!!!!). Video of his speech here.

Distant promises aside, Clegg’s government will also implement some of Harriet Harman’s (secretary in previous labour gov’t) proposals THIS APRIL: if women return to work before using their full 9-months maternity allowance, they will be allowed to transfer some of their maternity leave onto their partners. This strikes me as a completely sensible change and it baffles me why that was not possible before. For whilst I welcome government maternity support, in the current system it hardly encourages choice or equality; it provides an actual disincentive to couples who’d wish for the woman to return to work earlier and for the men to take some leave instead. (I apologise for heteronormativity btw – I don’t know at all how this works in single sex couples – comments very welcome!)

Now for some reactions: Financial Times was quick to declare this a disaster for small businesses – before we even know what the plans are. I readily admit and understand that any form of leave can pose huge practical problems for small businesses, but it is interesting that noone seems to perceive any possible upside – namely that their highly qualified female staff might return to work more quickly!

More worrisome is Daniel Barnett in the Guardian, who gives exactly the kind of shortsighted response I’d have feared for. After pointing out some very legitimate practical problems that will arise for small businesses, he first writes a bogus practical objection:

“It will be difficult for employers to check the truthfulness of a father’s claim that his wife has let him take half of the parental leave, and it might end with parents being able to manipulate extra time off because of the impossibility of policing the system.” — EEEHM – if they manage this in Sweden, shouldn’t we be able to do so in UK??

But the following is worse:

“Finally, it will have a chilling impact on recruitment practice. Many employers shy away from hiring women of childbearing age. Clegg’s proposals might see employers becoming wary of recruiting anyone in their 20s or 30s.”

AH – I get it. So it is ok to discriminate against women, but it is “chilling” to discriminate against men of childbearing age??? Surely it would be a good thing if employers have uncertainty in their hiring process as to who will be taking time out, rather than always assuming it will be the woman and then not hiring her?

Besides – all people in their 20’s and 30’s is a large group to discriminate against. Not to mention that people in their 50’s and 60’s (the ones currently filing age discrimination complaints) might well welcome this relative increase in their employability;)