Parental leave protest to Blairs

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The Independent Online
TONY AND CHERIE Blair will receive an unwelcome Christmas delegation of mothers and fathers at No 10 on Wednesday.

They represent the 3.3 million parents who believe their exclusion from the new parental leave legislation - which will let Mr Blair take three months' unpaid leave - is unjust.

An Act granting time off to parents becomes law on Wednesday. But only families with children born after that date, such as the Blairs, will qualify.

The Manufacturing Science and Finance union, which is organising the delegation, regards the cut-off date as a business-friendly rather than a family-friendly move. It wants leave for all parents with young children.

Roger Lyons, the general secretary, will send the Blairs a Christmas card portraying the Prime Minister as Father Christmas with a little girl on his knee. "And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?" asks Mr Blair. She replies: "I want my mum and dad to get parental leave too."

Last week Mr Lyons appealed to Brussels, alleging that Britain was in breach of the European directive on the issue. The Irish government faces litigation over similar alleged breaches.

Mr Lyons also takes issue with the Government over its insistence that the leave be taken before the child is five. The directive allows for time off up to the child's eighth birthday.

The Department of Trade and Industry says the cut-off date was imposed to ensure that demand for leave built up slowly so that the "goodwill of employers is maximised".

Meanwhile, in an open letter to Mr Blair, Julie Mellor, head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, welcomes the scheme as a start but say it does not go far enough. "It is unpaid, which will mean that few men in practice can afford to take leave at a time when family incomes are already stretched," she says.