By James Chapman
London - New fathers are being given the right to take six months' paternity leave, despite concerns of its impact on firms in the recession.
British prime minister Gordon Brown will tell union bosses that the plan will be implemented after Business Secretary Lord Mandelson put it on ice because of the economic crisis.
Around 400 000 men a year will qualify for the right to dramatically extended leave from April 2011.
At the moment, they can only take two weeks off, an offer taken up by 60 per cent of eligible men. By contrast, new mothers can take a year off.
As well as a sop to the unions, the move will be seen as naked electioneering.
Labour strategists believe a raft of extensions to parental leave implemented over the last decade have been hugely popular with young working parents.
Essentially, the reforms mean parents will be able to decide how to divide up a total of 12 months of parental leave between themselves.
A mother going back to work after six months off will be able to transfer the rest of her leave to her partner.
They will be paid the statutory rate of £123,06 (about R1 500) a week up to the 39-week cut-off period for women, after which the leave will be unpaid.
Ministers say the move will help smash Britain's 'macho' culture of men working through their children's early lives.
The announcement will be seized on by critics as evidence that the Government is caving in to pressure from its union paymasters.
The plans have angered bosses, who say extended rights for fathers will be hugely disruptive, particularly for smaller firms.
In one survey, two-thirds of employers said new paternity rights could cause them 'some' or 'significant' difficulties.
The British Chambers of Commerce expressed shock that the Government was implementing the plan just as firms were struggling in the downturn.
'We have called for a moratorium on all new employment legislation,' said director general David Frost.
'There is absolutely no guarantee that businesses are going to be back to full health by 2011. This is going to be an administrative nightmare for businesses.
'It's going to be a huge diversion for companies when they can least afford it.'
There is particular concern over who will be responsible for policing the system. Government documents suggest new fathers will be allowed to sign themselves off for six months with no eligibility checks by the Government.
They should only be entitled to take the time off only if their wife or partner has gone back to work.
But the fine print of the Government's plans reveal that no official checks will be made with the mother's employer, prompting fears that firms could be conned by men whose partners have not really returned to employment.
The documents state: 'There may well be a risk of fraud. The financial and time costs in the verification process would be significant and are likely to outweigh the benefit derived.'
Small firms will be able to reclaim 100 percent of the money they pay to fathers on paternity leave, but larger firms will only get 92 percent back. - Daily Mail