Paternity Leave: A Case of Take it or Leave it

Even as European governments are being asked to extend paternity rights and the UNCHR (United Nations Commissions for Human Rights) pushes to make parental rights available for both men and women in all workplaces by 2020, it's questionable whether workplace realities will ever allow such gender parity.

First of all fathers are proving to be reluctant users of existent paternity rights -- BNET UK readers have explained some of the reasons why -- and Working Families claims forty per cent of men abstain from taking paternity leave.

In such a scenario aren't demands for more parental rights academic?

With the General Election around the corner, Working Families, a charity campaigning for work-life balance, is asking political parties to extend paternity rights in the new government. The charity wants all fathers/partners to be entitled to extended paternity leave, regardless of length of service, at minimum wage levels.
The reason most men in the survey cited for refraining from taking leave is that they simply couldn't afford it. A soon-to-be-dad earning at least £97 a week, pre-tax, is entitled to statutory paternity pay of £124.88 a week for two weeks (which must be taken consecutively), and only if he has worked with an employer for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby's due date. If political parties were to adopt the Working Families guidlines, statutory paternity pay at minimum wage could be as much as £232 a week.

It's unclear whether employers would support Working Families' suggestion -- businesses, especially small-scale enterprises, struggle with the costs of having to find a temporary replacement for an employee on parental leave as it is.

The obvious argument in favour of gender-neutral parental rights is the promotion of equal opportunities in the workplace. The other argument in its favour is that paternity rights create flexible work opportunities for families.

But for now, it's hard to see how employers and would-be fathers will be persuaded to push for equality of parental leave.

Parental leave and the wider issue of work designed to fit around the rest of life is something that BNET has covered in much depth in the past and it will undoubtedly crop up again in the future. But, in this instance, Working Families may be pushing for something few people want.

Can you suggest a better working model for parental leave? Write your comments below.

(Pic: g-hat cc2.0)