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Peter Mandelson has put on hold plans to extend the right to ask for flexible working hours to all parents with children under 16, and may ditch an extention of paid maternity leave from 39 to 52 weeks, reports the Independent.

It was due to take effect next April and an estimated 811,000 mothers and fathers were expected to request flexible working. With parents of children aged up to six, who can already request flexible hours, some 90 per cent of such requests are being granted. But the extension would cost employers an extra £69m a year.

Government sources say the decision is finely balanced. Ministers want to ease the pain of the downturn on ordinary people but must do everything possible to help business. Delaying a popular extension of workplace rights might contribute to a “feel-bad factor” and would be opposed by many Labour MPs and trade unions.

It’s not just a “feel-bad factor”, it’s a real set back for mothers’ rights in the workplace, and equal parenting in general.