Unicef set to give equal parental leave to all UK staff

Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency, has said parental leave is to be equalised for all of its UK employees.

Unicef UK will now offer 52 weeks leave and equal pay for all new caregivers, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The policy will also include staff who are adopting a child.

Unicef said the UK ranked fourth lowest out of 31 European countries when it comes to family-friendly policies.

Financial obstacle

At the moment in the UK, pregnant employees have the right to 52 weeks maternity leave.

Shared parental leave allows parents – after birth or adoption – to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay .

Fathers are entitled to two weeks of statutory paternity leave at £148.68 per week, provided they have worked for the company for 26 weeks.

But only about 2-8% of eligible fathers are making use of these policies, according to Unicef’s latest report, with financial reasons cited as the main obstacle.

“We are keen to see policies like ours become the norm and for the rights of caregivers and their children to be supported,” said Unicef UK’s director of people Martyn Dicker. “I am hoping others will follow our example.”

Analysis by the University of Birmingham found only 9,200 new parents (just over 1% of those entitled) took shared parental leave in 2017-18. That increased to 10,700 in the financial year 2018-19.

And more companies are starting to offer enhanced parental leave – not just maternity leave – to respond to the demands of their staff.

Late last year, Goldman Sachs announced that men and women would get the same fully-paid leave, of at least 20 weeks, whether they had become new parents through birth, surrogacy or adoption.

Two other large firms – Standard Life Aberdeen and Vodafone – similarly announced steps to try to equalise the experience of men and women in the workplace when babies are born.

“Flexible and enhanced parental leave policies can lead to greater commitment and loyalty from employees, and can help to boost an organisation’s reputation for being a good employer,” said Claire McCartney, resourcing and inclusion adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

“They can also help to increase gender equality at work and help to narrow the gender pay gap.

“However, just as important as having these policies in place is to create a culture where people feel able and supported to take up the provisions that are offered.”