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The BBC's Alison Holt
"There is a proposal to allow both parents to reduce the hours they work"
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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 16:35 GMT
Paid paternity leave on the cards
Mother and baby
Mothers will be offered better maternity rights
Fathers are to be given paid time off to look after their newly born children, under proposals put forward by the government.

The money likely to be available would be set at around 60 a week.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has published a green paper outlining measures to help parents cope with "the heavy demands" of raising children and working.

We need to answer the calls from fathers who can't afford to take time off to be with their new baby

Stephen Byers

Business leaders are concerned at the burdens it may place on them but the move has been welcomed by the trade unions.

Under the plans, which are now out for consultation, fathers of newly born children would be entitled to two weeks paid leave.

Paid maternity leave would be extended to six months while women would be able to take a year off work after the birth without pay.

However, the changes would not be introduced until after the next general election, if Labour wins.

The green paper also suggests that parents of disabled children should be allowed to take unpaid time off work if they need to.

Under the plans, student nurses would be able to claim maternity pay for the first time.

Extended maternity leave

At present student nurses are not entitled to maternity pay if they take time off to have a baby, even if they are working full-time on a hospital ward, because they are classed as students.

The paper suggests maternity leave pay should be increased to 60.20 per week and the same rate should be paid during paternity leave.

At the moment, new fathers are not entitled to paid time off work.

The government hopes about 350,000 working fathers will take up paternity leave each year. It estimates there would be a 60% take up, costing the state 25m a year.

Other measures suggest allowing both men and women to take paid leave when they adopt a child.

Heavy demands

Mr Byers said the changes would help parents.

"I don't want mothers to drop out of the labour market because they feel they don't have enough support or flexibility.

"We also need to answer the calls from fathers who can't afford to take time off to be with their new baby.

"Getting a proper balance between home and work is a prize for us all," he said.

The government has been listening to Britain's working parents

John Monks, TUC
The proposals have been welcomed by family groups although some have criticised the government for not going far enough.

It is understood that ministers backed away from giving fathers the same entitlement to leave and pay as women after estimates suggested it could cost the state more than 1bn annually.

Business concerns

However, the proposals have drawn a mixed response from employers.

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Chris Humphries, said: "While firms recognise the benefits of family-friendly practices, they object to government attempts to force them to do so in ways which undermine flexibility."

But TUC General Secretary, John Monks said: "It shows the government has been listening to Britain's working parents."

He added: "Working parents need to be able to work flexibly if they are to juggle the needs of work and their children and stay sane."

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See also:

10 Sep 00 | Health
'Expectant fathers ignored'
15 Dec 99 | Business
New fathers get unpaid leave
28 Jan 99 | The Economy
Workers win more rights
07 Dec 00 | Business
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