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Parents could share paternity and maternity leave more equally under government proposals to introduce a more flexible system from 2015.In its Modern Workplaces consultation, launched today, the coalition has set out a “radical” new system of parental leave, as well as plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all people employed for 26 weeks. Under the parental leave proposals, the existing 18 weeks’ continuous maternity leave and pay will be protected, as will the current two weeks of paternity leave and pay.However, the remainder of maternity leave “should be reclassified as parental leave” to make it available to either parent on an equal basis, the proposals said.In addition to this “each parent should have exclusive use of four weeks’ paid leave”, says the consultation document, which would mean that fathers are entitled to at least six weeks. Both parents will also be able to take leave at the same time if they want to, and/or book it off in blocks rather than a continuous period of time.Vince Cable, Business Secretary, said: “Our proposals will encourage greater choice by giving employees and their employers the flexibility to find arrangements to suit them both. New parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves, rather than being dictated to by rigid government regulation. “Employers should be encouraged to come to agreement with employees on how work and family responsibilities can be met simultaneously.”Some employers have raised concerns about the practicalities of dividing up leave to be taken in blocks. However, a clause in the proposals means that if a pattern of leave that suits employer and employee cannot be agreed then employers will be able to ensure the leave must be taken in one continuous period.Jackie Orme, CIPD chief executive, broadly welcomed the proposals but she said: “We retain some concerns about the workability of some proposals. We believe that parents should be required to take leave in reasonable blocks of time – no shorter than two weeks – if the employer is not to be subjected to unreasonable burdens. And we’ll be looking for reassurance about the adequacy of HM revenue and customs IT systems to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy that might be associated with the administration of these proposals.”Sarah Jackson, Working Families chief executive, said: “Evidence suggests that ‘shared leave’ is used by mothers, so a use-it-or-lose it month for fathers should stimulate take up. We welcome the proposal that parents could use their leave to work part time to ease the return to work after a new baby is born. "This would benefit employers too if employees return to work sooner, but on a less than full time basis.It is disappointing that there is little in the consultation paper for low income fathers. Apart from independent rights, it is adequate wage replacement that encourages fathers to take time out.”Michelle Quest, head of people at KPMG, said: “I believe that many women who are the main breadwinner will welcome the opportunity to share parental leave in a flexible way, striking the balance that’s right for them and their employer.”She said that extending the right of all employees to request flexible working was “surely right” as this is an issue for men and non-parents as well as for women. At KPMG for example, over a third of employees that work flexibly are men, she added.