Maternity leave could be reduced to 18 weeks resulting in pay reductions for almost half of working mothers, unions have warned.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that the government’s consultation on modern workplaces puts flexible working practices at risk.

Current legislation permits employed women to take 52 weeks off, with 39 weeks being paid and the remainder unpaid.

Employed fathers may take two weeks off after the birth of their child and receive statutory pay at a flat rate.

The government wants to change this system to allow for more shared parenting at the start of a child’s life.

It has therefore proposed that women be provided 18 weeks of maternity leave and the remaining 34 weeks may be split between the parents as they see fit.

The TUC said it supports plans to encourage shared parenting, but said that the time new mothers are allowed to take off should be reduced to 26 weeks.

For the rest of the current year’s leave, parenting should be shared between the mother and the father.

Data analysed by the union group suggested that 60 per cent of working women who have taken leave to have children receive maternity pay above the statutory minimum.

As the vast majority of women get this for 26 weeks, reducing the designated leave to 18 weeks could lead some employers to reduce the length of contractual maternity pay.

This would effectively result in cuts in pay for women taking leave to have a baby.

“Weakening the right to request flexible working will give bad employers the wrong message and is the excuse they’ve been looking for to ignore requests,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

“The government should remember how successful and popular this right has been for parents over the last decade and put their needs ahead of the same old carping from business lobbyists.”