In our first draw in our series of head-to-heads, you voted 50/50 as to whether the Human Rights Act should be repealed, even though 81% of you said that you had not received a claim based on it. There was also little appetite for it being replaced by a new Bill of Rights (62% against). It seems that, despite its wide-ranging potential relevance, the Human Rights Act has little effect on our day-to-day lives although claiming that it is the last refuge of the hopeless claim would probably be putting it too highly. Full survey results can be found here.

With Nick Clegg announcing recently that male and female civil servants will be afforded equal parental pay and rights, this week’s debate asks whether this is a good or a bad idea.

Paul Mander, Head of Employment

YES, FATHERS SHOULD BE PAID THE SAME AS MOTHERS FOR THE NEW SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE...

Quite right too, I say. The law relating to maternity leave and Shared Parental Leave sets a statutory minimum amount of pay to be paid to those who avail themselves of such rights. Although, at £138.18 per week, that doesn’t stretch very far.

Many employers enhance the statutory rate of pay for mothers who take maternity leave but there is no legal obligation on an employer to mirror any such enhancement in current paternity leave schemes or future Shared Parental Leave schemes and, in many cases, employers do not do so.

Nick Clegg’s announcement bucks that trend. He says that the same level of enhanced pay will be paid to parents regardless of whether they are taking maternity leave or Shared Parental Leave. He is hoping that the Civil Service can lead the way in this area and encourage private sector employers to follow suit. I hope he’s right.

When the Government announced its intention to introduce this new regime of Shared Parental Leave, Business Minister, Jo Swinson, said that the Government wished to “… shatter the perception that it is mainly a woman’s role to stay at home and look after the child and a man’s role to be at work”. But how can that intention possibly be achieved unless fathers are paid just as much as mothers for taking time off to be with their children?

Although the ‘traditional’ family structure where the father is the main breadwinner is less common than it used to be, for many families it simply isn’t financially viable for a father to take time off work to care for a child if he is only going to receive the statutory minimum amount of pay for doing so. If the mother in such a family can remain on maternity leave and receive an enhancement to the statutory rate of pay, then it makes financial sense for her to do just that. But this situation flies in the face of the Government’s stated intention to encourage fathers to take time out to be with their children.

Many employers hold themselves out as being ‘equal opportunities employers’ but an employer who fails to offer an equal level of pay to fathers and mothers in these circumstances is surely behaving contrary to such an assertion.

Failing to balance levels of pay between mothers and fathers creates a disincentive for fathers who wish to take time off to be with their children. It is encouraging women to take this sort of leave and men to remain in the workplace which, in turn, suggests that employers value a man’s contribution in the work place more than a woman's. Surely, in this day and age, can such a message be tolerated?

Let us know what you think. Cast your vote here.

NO, FATHERS SHOULD NOT BE PAID THE SAME AS MOTHERS FOR THE NEW SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE...

This is certainly a worthy ideal. One of the main reasons cited for the gender pay gap is that working mothers have lost valuable years of their career path while at home caring for their family. In theory, if there are equal parental benefits for men and women, there is no reason why more women than men should choose to take a lengthy period of parental leave soon after their baby’s birth. If, as is so often the case, the parent then decides to take a career break, that parent could – according to Nick Clegg - now equally be the father or the mother.

The problem with all such ideals is that they must take account of the harsh reality of an employer’s finances. For a small employer who has decided to enhance maternity benefits, the financial impact would be greatly increased if a father was entitled to the same enhancements. For all employers, the possibility that a greater number of staff are entitled to an enhancement could lead to an overall reduction in the level of benefit to both women and men. In other words, an employer operating on tight margins could feel it has to “level down” and offer all employees a reduced enhancement - or even no enhancement. This will particularly hit employers with large male workforces.

I am not arguing that increased parental benefits for both men and women is something that should never be considered but it should not be rushed. The introduction of shared parental leave is, in itself, a major change to employment rights. A further change following on so soon should be held back. There should be a period of bedding down and consultation with the business community prior to introducing any further financial burdens.

It is now recognised in several areas of the law that increased rights and flexibility should not be limited just to parents. An example of this is the right to request flexible working hours. It was originally only for parents but now applies to the workforce as a whole. It is not fair on employees who are not parents if there is too great a growth of family-orientated benefits as opposed to ones that apply to everyone. Once more, it is important that any changes are introduced gradually and are not rushed so as to cause tension within a workplace.

As a father with three children all in or close to their teens, I would be particularly annoyed to see younger fathers benefiting from pay opportunities I was never given. Then again, if any new regulations to extend the benefit have a retrospective effect, I might just change my mind on this one…

Let us know what you think. Cast your vote here.