The government is planning to include sweeping increases in employment rights in its forthcoming election manifesto, according to reports in today’s Financial Times, risking the wrath of employers across Britain.
In an interview with the newspaper, trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt said that “a centrepiece of the manifesto will be . . . a package of support for hard-working families, and we will be campaigning on that as a big part of the election."
The proposals are likely to include controversial rights to longer paid maternity leave and higher paternity pay.
Working mothers are currently entitled to six months paid and six months unpaid, leave. But Ms Hewitt said that there was "no doubt at all that what mothers really do need . . . is to get some or all of that second six months paid as well".
Fathers will receive 90 per cent of their salary for the first two weeks of paternity leave rather than the current £102 a week in a bid to increase take-up. Currently only one in five fathers takes up their paid paternity leave entitlement.
Ms Hewitt also mooted an extension of the flexible working rights granted to parents of young children to all employees who care for elderly or disabled relatives.
And for the first time, workers will have a statutory entitlement to paid leave for the eight bank holidays in addition to four weeks' annual holiday.
The CBI said the proposals would "trigger a significant increase in absence".
The British Chambers of Commerce told the FT the plans - particularly the paid maternity leave extension - "could have a crippling effect on many small businesses who have just a small amount of staff. It will cause great inconvenience."
Even though the raise in paternity pay and the extension of paid maternity would be taxpayer-funded, the maternity leave proposals will cause particular anger amongst the owners of smaller businesses who are already concerned at the impact of the current regulations.
Indeed amid increasingly evidence that many firms already think twice before employing women of childbearing age, such an extension of maternity rights could prove counterproductive. In a poll published last week by HR consultants Croner, eight out of ten HR professionals said that bosses automatically think twice before employing young women.
Signs are also emerging of a backlash against ‘family-friendly’ working practices from those who are neither parents nor carers and are therefore excluded from this raft of new legislation.
A poll last month found that almost half of workers complained that time off for new parents places unfair burdens on other staff.