Maternity leave, flexible working for parents put on hold by Mandelson

// 20 October 2008

Peter Mandelson has put on hold plans to extend the right to ask for flexible working hours to all parents with children under 16, and may ditch an extention of paid maternity leave from 39 to 52 weeks, reports the Independent.

It was due to take effect next April and an estimated 811,000 mothers and fathers were expected to request flexible working. With parents of children aged up to six, who can already request flexible hours, some 90 per cent of such requests are being granted. But the extension would cost employers an extra £69m a year.

Government sources say the decision is finely balanced. Ministers want to ease the pain of the downturn on ordinary people but must do everything possible to help business. Delaying a popular extension of workplace rights might contribute to a “feel-bad factor” and would be opposed by many Labour MPs and trade unions.

It’s not just a “feel-bad factor”, it’s a real set back for mothers’ rights in the workplace, and equal parenting in general.

Comments From You

Soirore // Posted 20 October 2008 at 12:59 pm

I’m really suspicious when it states that more flexibility for workers would cost employers £69m a year. How? These parents aren’t getting paid for not working they are doing different hours.

All people with responsibilities outside work (eg caring for an elderly relative, not just children) should be able to do their job in a way that is reasonable. The employers can still say no to a request for flexible working if it isn’t reasonable so they have a duty to at least hear peoples’ requests.

Amy // Posted 20 October 2008 at 2:40 pm

“Ministers want to ease the pain of the downturn on ordinary people but must do everything possible to help business.”

Jurgen Habermas’ Legitimation Crisis, anyone? (Gotta love neo-Marxist theory)

eleanargh // Posted 20 October 2008 at 4:44 pm

It (flexibility rather than maternity leave)’s a setback for father’s rights in the workplace too – I think it’s important we never forget to emphasise that, to encourage the idea of fathers’ responsibilities to their children as much as mothers’. I find the difference in paid leave for new mothers and fathers (two weeks!) pitiful – especially compared to some, notably Scandinavian, countries where the parental leave is an amount given to both parents for them to divide between themselves as they wish.

Soirore, I’m be interested to see where £69m comes from too; though I suppose the administering of flexible/unusual hours, maybe security for buildings open earlier or later, scheduling meetings to include everyone, things like that might contribute to costs. I’m lucky enough to work for an employer that’s very open to flexible hours requests, for those with caring responsibilities, part-timers with other jobs, those studying… and it would be great if everybody could. Hopefully the govt will find other policies more effective in helping business than cutting this one.

james // Posted 20 October 2008 at 7:31 pm

There are fixed costs to supporting a worker: this includes things like supporting extra desks, workstations, fixed amounts of time needed for essential training, more admin, and so on. There are also additional costs like communication between job shares. In some circumstances like fruit picking these are very small, but in other like high level office work these are very large. In theory this could have been considered as ground for declining applications when employees considered them, but in practice tribunals have ruled that these defences to an application won’t be admitted.

Ellie // Posted 21 October 2008 at 11:59 am

I must say I’d rather see a change in the current rules so that mothers and fathers get equal amounts of parenting leave, or a set amount to share between them, rather than an extension of the current maternity leave,

Honestly, already small business are discriminating against women who may become mothers soon because of the amount of time they could potentially take off. If parents are going to be discriminated against I’d rather it was both of them that had to face it. In fact, madatory paid parental leave for both parents (where relevant) would maybe help this situation.

Audrey // Posted 21 October 2008 at 12:03 pm

I have just accepted a job at a top international law firm. When I did work experience there more than half of the lawyers were women, and half of them were using flexi time. It has proven successful because they get better quality work done, are able to work from home when needed, and thus bring in vast amounts of fee revenue compared to less skilled candidates who might not ask for flexi time ie less qualified or experienced recruits who do not have parental responsibilities. The firm sees it as win- win, and the impression I got was that they would hire a tiger or a turkey if it got the job done and they could do that anyway they pleased. If it did not work, they would not do it. Most firms realise that they are alienating women by not doing so – more of whom are going to uni than ever – who comprise a vital source of talent and thus firm profit.

Rose // Posted 21 October 2008 at 1:20 pm

I would agree that equal parenting responsibility is key. Both parties may need flexible working hours and some support in their parenting. But becoming a parent is a personal choice, and I think that some people ask too much of their workplace already. Small businesses can be terribly damaged by people making their decision to have children a business expense. If you wouldn’t ask your boss to pay child maintance, why ask for maternity leave?

In my opinion, maternity leave stands bang in the way of equality in the workplace. It just makes hiring young women a liability.

Ruth Moss // Posted 21 October 2008 at 2:57 pm


It’s one step forward and two steps back sometimes, isn’t it?

Ellie, I take your point, and I too would like to see far longer paternity leave available, but I would not be happy about this coming out of my maternity leave.

I’d like to see it as an addition. After all, it is me who supplies the milk for my son, not his father, and it was much easier for me to do it “at source” as it were, than pump it in work (which I did when I went back at nine months – I only got six months SMP and I was literally just days away from getting nine months SMP) which not only did I struggle with and find painful, but also found emotionally very distressing. I do think that we often forget about breastfeeding when we discuss a simple split in mother/father leave in the early days; this is something really only the mother can do – she can return to work and pump of course but this is almost always a far more difficult option. In fact some women have an abundance of a particular enzyme in their milk which makes it impossible to store even for short periods without it going off.

Maybe I am looking at this differently, but if I’ve carried my child for nine (well almost ten in my case) months and I am supplying the milk for him, and there’s an extra three months SMP going… then frankly I want at least first refusal – I think I deserve at least that much!

But personally I think the whole system is wrong. After all practically the entire world of work is a patriarchal institution and women have to work extra hard just to get along. Flexible working doesn’t even go nearly far enough – we have “the right” to ask (how many of us would dare, and risk the wrath of our non-parent co-workers who would accuse us of “slacking” and of them having to pick up our load?), but our employers also have the right to refuse and many do – a “business reason” is actually quite easy to find.

We need more flexibility (and actually I don’t see why this shouldn’t also be extended to non-parents too) not less. And really I do think businesses would benefit – home working cuts overheads, for example.

James // Posted 21 October 2008 at 5:53 pm


By mandatory paid parental leave, do you mean forcing men to take their leave?

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