Shared Parental Leave is a new initiative being launched by the government in April this year. Following the birth of a baby, it allows parents a lot more flexibility to care for their new offspring together. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. In principle. I think the idea that parents can be equally involved in the care of their child is long overdue and will go some way towards reflecting the 21st century position in this country; where it's near impossible for the average family to survive on one income and it's by no means unheard of for the woman to earn more than the man.
I am all in favour of any legislation that recognises this and also encourages fathers to play an active role in their new baby's life. It will have a positive impact on not just the father and child, but also the relationship between the two parents. It is often reported by new mums that they feel largely unsupported during those first few crucial months and dads can feel very frustrated that they are often powerless to do more to help. So that's all good. However...
When my son was born, I was very ill for a long time. I had Symphisis Pubis Dysfunction during the pregnancy, which worsened after my son was born. This meant, not only was I using crutches for months, I was also left with a permanent disability as a result. Particularly in the early days, I would have given anything to have more support at home and, equally, my husband would have loved to have spent more time with us, making sure we were ok. Unfortunately though, not all employers are the same. Although he was 'entitled' to two weeks off work, he was in a job relying on a 'skeleton crew'. Due to cutbacks and the need for bigger profits, the company no longer employed enough staff to cover holidays and sickness, so any leave, parental or otherwise, was not welcomed. My husband was made to feel guilty for taking his full entitlement and pressured to come back to work early, because there was no one to do his job. When he did go back, he was working up to 80 hours a week to catch up with the work he couldn't do while he was off. There are a rapidly increasing number of people who are on 'zero hour' contracts these days, where they are contracted for a very small number of hours and the rest of their working week is made up out of overtime. This throws up two potential problems. Firstly, Shared Parental Pay is paid at £138.18 per week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. So zero hour contracts, or part-time contracts, where the rest is made up in overtime, will presumably not be eligible. Further to this, though, zero-hour contracts pose a problem for employees where skeleton crews are employed, because if they can't afford to lose you and you take your entitlement anyway, you can find yourself working just your contracted hours on your return, leaving you with a massive hole in your pay packet. It's blackmail, but it happens.
In conclusion, as much as I fully respect and applaud what the government are trying to do, I hope they will remember those people who work full time to support their families, but due to know fault of their own, are not given the recognition or protection in employment that they deserve.