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Government proposes right to request flexible working for all parents, plus shared parental leave changes

The Government is to launch a consultation today on the right to request flexible working for all working parents and shared leave for new parents, to encourage more fathers to take paternity leave.

It is understood business secretary Vince Cable and home secretary Theresa May will launch the consultation today aimed at encouraging men to take more time off to care for children.

They will outline plans for flexible working arrangements that will allow parents to share parental leave for short spaces of time rather than a single block.

Speaking to The Financial Times, employment relations minister Ed Davey said: "Once the parents decide how they are going to split the entitlement up, the employer can insist that it is taken in one chunk."

Fathers will be offered an extra month's paid leave in addition to the current two weeks' paternity leave. This will not be transferable to the mother, in an effort to persuade more men to take time off when their children are young.

Overall, the maximum amount of paid and unpaid leave per family would increase from 54 to 58 weeks, with the father being able to take up to 36 weeks of that.

Responding to the launch of the Government's consultation paper on flexible working and shared leave for parents today, Working Families chief executive, Sarah Jackson, said: "We have long campaigned for the right to request flexible working to be available to all employees. Making flexible working more widely available will change working cultures and benefit families. Parents find it easier to ask for changes where flexibility is the norm. We warmly welcome the proposed extension of the right to request flexible working.

"The right to request legislation has worked - it is simple and effective and sets out clear rights and responsibilities for employers and employees. Many good employers already offer flexible working rights to all employees. Where employment relations are good, employees don't need to resort to statutory rights. But the law provides a useful backstop when employers say 'no' without considering a request. Improved guidance would be helpful, but replacing statutory duties with a code of practice needs careful handling. There is a danger that employees' rights are watered down while employers face less certainty - with judges, not Government, deciding whether their response to a request for flexible working is 'reasonable'.

"We welcome further reform of parental leave arrangements and in particular more rights for fathers. Evidence suggests that 'shared leave' is used by mothers, so a use-it-or-lose it month for fathers should stimulate take up. We welcome the proposal that parents could use their leave to work part time to ease the return to work after a new baby is born. This would benefit employers too if employees return to work sooner, but on a less than full time basis."

But she added: "It is disappointing that there is little in the consultation paper for low income fathers. Apart from independent rights, it is adequate wage replacement that encourages fathers to take time out. Forty per cent of fathers we surveyed don't take their two weeks of paternity leave now - the majority because they can't afford it. If the Government are serious about making Britain family-friendly, they need to improve access to parental leave by paying it properly."