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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
Firms fear paternity leave change
A father holding his baby
The government is preparing a new bill on work and families
Small business bodies are unhappy about reports that the government may be considering giving new fathers six months of unpaid paternity leave.

The rights are reportedly part of a new bill on work and families from Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson.

The six months paternity leave could only be taken only if the child's mother has returned to work.

The British Chambers of Commerce warned the scheme could be an "administrative nightmare" for small firms.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "We have made a commitment to introduce a bill on work and families as soon as time allows.

'Good for business'

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said that babies were the "workers of the future" and more should be done to increase ways of caring for them.

Plans to extend parental leave could not only be an administrative nightmare, but could leave firms without key staff for long periods of time
David Frost, British Chambers of Commerce

"Potentially this [paternity leave proposal] could be good for businesses," the EOC's chief executive Caroline Slocock told the BBC.

"At present women have all of the burden of looking after a new baby."

However, she did say that small businesses could do with some support from the government if staff are away on paternity or maternity leave.

At the moment, new fathers get two weeks paternity leave, whereas new mothers get six months, which will be extended to a year in 2009.

'Unable to cope'

Businesswoman Sylvia Tidy-Harris told the BBC that small firms should be given a 2,000 grant for each person who is off work for six months following the birth of a baby.

She said the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) were "very concerned" about the reported proposals, which could see firms lose staff for months at a time.

"Small businesses will not be able to cope," she said.

BCC director general David Frost said: "The issue for businesses is that plans to extend parental leave could not only be an administrative nightmare, but could leave firms without key staff for long periods of time.

"While employers want to actively support flexible working, the Government must realise that extending parental leave at such an unprecedented rate will add more confusion and pressure to firms who are already struggling to compete."

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