Workplace Rights: Families need fathers

The above headline conjures images of blokes in Batman-and-Robin garb protesting on rooftops, but it also describes a key plank of Government policy on work and childcare.

The right to paternity leave is currently limited to a fortnight, paid at a flat weekly rate of up to £123.06, but plans are afoot to make the second six months of maternity leave transferable between parents. By 2011, fathers will be entitled to take another six months' leave - three at the statutory rate and three unpaid - as long as the mother returns to work and gives up half of her maternity leave. Will this usher in a new era of stay-at-home dads? Recent research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 45% of new fathers fail to take even their two weeks off - usually because they cannot afford to. The same deterrent will apply to the additional paternity leave right, unless perhaps the mother is a significantly higher earner. For fathers to assume a more active childcare role in significant numbers, it needs to be a more financially viable option.

- Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors - e-mail:

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