People Management: Three minutes with Maggy Meade-King, Working Families

What do you think of the Department of Trade and Industry consultation paper Choice and Flexibility?

It's great that it proposes to extend maternity leave from nine to 12 months. However, as this would be maternity leave that could be transferred to fathers, it still makes the assumption that mothers are the primary carers and fathers the providers. We think there would be a much higher take-up rate if there was special fathers' leave on better pay.

What other proposals are missing?

There is no provision to strengthen the 'right to request' legislation.

At present, employers can simply turn down a father's request for flexible working hours for "business reasons" - they don't have to give a proper justification for their refusal.

What changes would you make?

The burden is on the individual to prove that their request won't have an adverse effect on business, but we would like to see the burden lie with employers, who are in a better position to make their case. We would also like to see the Act given some teeth and the levels of compensation people get in tribunals increased.

Why is it important for fathers to spend more time with their children?

There has been all kinds of research that proves the absence of a father can have a really detrimental effect on a child's development.

At the moment, parents seem to be getting the blame for children and young people who misbehave, yet they are not being helped to see more of their families.

Is the voluntary sector doing enough?

Because many charities can't afford to pay as much as they would like to, they have to offer other incentives. We work very long hours in the UK and some fathers hardly see their families. This can affect their health, their morale and their productivity. It might even prompt them to try to move jobs.

If you want to keep your good employees, don't work them to death; let them have a life.

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