Maternity and Parental Leave – Time for Reform?

Maternity and Parental Leave – Time for Reform?

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Yannick Ramsamy

Maternity Action have issued a briefing calling for substantial reform to maternity and parental leave legislation.

The May 2021 briefing has been issued in response to Maternity Action’s concerns regarding:

  • low take up of shared parental leave (SPL) since the introduction of the scheme in April 2015. Data provided by the business minister Paul Scully in response to a parliamentary question in February 2021 refers to take up of SPL by eligible fathers being only 3.6% in 2019/20. A figure significantly below the government’s previously expressed target of 25%;
  • research indicating that the low take up of SPL has been worsened by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The briefing refers to a report on the gendered impact of Covid-19 prepared by the Women and Equalities Committee in February 2021 which states that the gender gap in total childcare time increased during the pandemic, with women devoting more hours to childcare compared to men, and mothers being more likely than fathers to be asked to be furloughed. Maternity Action have expressed the view that this gendered impact is partly due to lockdowns in certain sectors which tend to be female dominated e.g. hospitality, retail and personal care; and
  • the general complexity of SPL being a barrier to take up for parents e.g. calculating the amount of SPL available for each parent and determining the applicable SPL period.

Key Reforms Proposed

As a result of the above issues, Maternity Action have proposed the following reforms:  

  • A new system of parental leave which provides for individual and specifically non-transferable rights for each parent.
  • A “6+6+6” model of paid leave, which replaces the existing statutory maternity leave and SPL scheme as follows:
    • the first 6 months of maternity leave being reserved for the mother;
    • a further 6 months of non-transferable parental leave can then be taken by the mother i.e. this would be in addition to the first 6 months of maternity leave, meaning the mother has a total leave entitlement of 12 months; and
    • 6 months of non-transferable parental leave can be taken by the father, in addition to the mother’s 12 month leave period.
  • Under the new system the additional parental leave periods for the mother and father could be taken concurrently or consecutively, all in one go, or in smaller blocks of weeks or months, up to 18 months after the birth.

The briefing also recommends that:

  • maternity, paternity and parental leave and pay should be day one rights for all working parents, regardless of their employment status; and
  • statutory leave pay should be increased on a staggered basis to at least the national minimum wage level, the real living wage level and then eventually wage-replacement levels.

One of the principle rationales behind these proposals is based on the majority of mothers being likely to use up their total maternity leave entitlement in order to physically and mentally recover from their pregnancy and childbirth. This means in practice (and as appears to be demonstrated in recent statistics) there is limited interest amongst parents in taking up SPL and therefore also reduced opportunity for fathers to benefit beyond the 2 weeks’ ordinary paternity leave and participate in parenting during the early life of their children.

Whilst the government has previously acknowledged the complexity of SPL and the barriers to take up, it remains to be seen to what extent it will factor in Maternity Action’s proposals as part of any future legislative maternity and parental leave reform. At this stage, and in light of the government delaying its Employment Bill for at least a year, in our view it is unlikely that any changes will be implemented in the near future meaning employers are not required to take any immediate steps. Notwithstanding this, employers continue to have the option of implementing enhanced maternity and parental leave policies which go beyond the current statutory framework in order to assist employees with their childcare commitments.

If you have any queries regarding maternity and parental leave benefits or require support in relation to managing these entitlements amongst your workforce, please contact our Employment Team.

Claire Knowles – Partner

Yannick Ramsamy – Senior Associate

Adam McGlynn –Solicitor

Daniel Evans – Solicitor

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