Business opposition to extra maternity leave rejected

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Tony Blair has brushed aside the protests of business leaders who have warned that government plans to extend maternity leave from six to nine months would "cripple" small business.

Tony Blair has brushed aside the protests of business leaders who have warned that government plans to extend maternity leave from six to nine months would "cripple" small business.

The proposals are aimed at wooing women voters back to Labour and would allow mothers for the first time to share some of their parental leave with the fathers.

Businesses complained the Government was going too far with its package of help for working families. But on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour yesterday, the picture painted by Mr Blair of the average family's future was less than rosy.

Families would find it "incredibly difficult" to juggle their working careers with bringing up children. "What we are trying to do with these proposals is just acknowledge that this is the future," said Mr Blair.

"We need to be extending the ability of people to get help with that situation both in respect of child care and in respect of extending maternity pay and maternity leave."

Labour is sending letters from Mr Blair to voters setting out the new plans. Extending maternity leave from six months to nine months by 2007 will be worth around £1,400 to affected families.

The Government is consulting on extending rights to flexible working from 3.6 million families with children aged six and under, to an extra 5.4 million parents with children aged up to 17. Statutory rights to flexible working are also being proposed for carers.

John Cridland, deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Extending family-friendly rights to this extent threatens to make life extremely difficult for small firms." The proposal for shared maternity leave could pose an "administrative nightmare", he warned.

Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said the Government would listen to business objections, although she made it clear she wanted the key proposals to go ahead, adding: "We are determined to make this package work for business as well as for working parents."

As the package for working parents was being launched, campaigners dressed as Batman and Robin and Captain America from Fathers4Justice broke through security around Whitehall to stage a protest from window ledges at the Foreign Office. They are seeking equal access to their children from their estranged wives.

Ms Hewitt said: "Children are not property to be divided 50-50 like the goods divided between couples on divorce."

Theresa May, the Tory spokesman on the family, accused Mr Blair of being "desperate" to win back the women voters whom he had let down so badly.

The family friendly policy is seen by Downing Street as a potent vote winner, particularly with women, who may be deserting Labour in droves according to some opinion polls.

Alan Milburn, the Prime Minister's general election strategy co-ordinator, said Labour would be challenging the Tories on a pledge that they would reverse the extra burdens placed on businesses over the past few years, including the additional maternity rights.

Comments