The government has this week announced a consultation to introduce a new system of parental leave from April 2015, as part of a series of proposals to create a “modern workplace”.

“Consultation on Modern Workplaces” proposes that both parents should be allowed to share the overall allowance of maternity and parental leave between them in block periods at the same time, while still retaining 18 weeks’ leave for mothers around the time of the birth.

The government proposes to reclassify the remainder of existing maternity leave as parental leave, which should be available to either parent on an equal basis (similar provisions will apply for adopters and same-sex couples).

Each parent should, however, have “exclusive use of four paid weeks’ leave, which will incentivise greater involvement by fathers in the early stages of a child’s life”.

In order that mothers could – if the parents so choose – take the same amount of leave as is currently possible, the government will extend the number of paid weeks of leave by the four that will be reserved for the father.

The new system would therefore see total leave available in year one between parents increased from 54 weeks (52 weeks of maternity leave plus two weeks’ paternity leave) to 58 overall.

The new parental leave provisions will also incorporate the existing right to unpaid parental leave beyond the first year of the child’s life, so parents will have a single right to parental leave which they can use from the end of maternity leave through their child’s early years.

The new provisions will supersede those for additional paternity leave and pay introduced in April 2011.

The government will also retain the current statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance arrangements during this period, as well as existing arrangements for two weeks’ (ordinary) paternity leave and pay.

Other issues under consideration include extending the age limit for taking unpaid parental leave beyond the existing limit of the child’s fifth birthday; and giving fathers the right to unpaid leave to attend antenatal appointments either as a new entitlement or as part of a father’s wider parental leave entitlement.

Finally, the consultation includes plans to extend the right to request flexible working to employees with six months employment; giving Tribunals the power to order employers to carry out pay audits, in certain circumstances; and making changes to the Working Time Regulations in terms of carry over of annual leave entitlement.

The consultation closes on 8 August.

To download the consultation document, go to the HM Government website.