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The Tory government is planning to strip parental leave rights from parents who work in small businesses, reports The Telegraph.

Under the proposal from Chancellor George Osbourne, businesses employing 10 or less people will no longer have to give the same maternity and paternity leave provisions as larger businesses. Instead, The Telegraph reports, they would be able to “negotiate” with expectant parents.

Of course, the newspaper reports this with an odd tone of excitement:

Currently a women is allowed up to a year’s statutory maternity leave if she is an employee, no matter how long she has had the job, how many hours she works or how much she is paid. Her employer is also forced to give her old job back to her, or offer her a similar post, on the same salary and conditions, if she wishes to return.

Furthermore, under changes to take effect in April, if a mother returns to work without taking a full year’s maternity leave then the father will be able to take the remaining time, up to a maximum of six months – another moved opposed by most business leaders.

In case you’re wondering just how many people will this affect, in 2009, there were more than 1 million small businesses with one to nine employees. Just under 4 million people were employed by these companies.

However, the principle of the matter is that your maternity or paternity leave should not depend on the size of the company where you work.

You should not be forced to ‘negotiate’ your entitlement to parental leave if you happen to work for a small company. This will leave pregnant women even more vulnerable to making poor deals, being put on the “mummy track” or losing their jobs. Already this is a massive problem for mothers, with 30,000 pregnant women losing their jobs every year, according to the Fawcett Society, and countless more being forced into jobs with lower pay, that they are overqualified for. And that’s with the law ostensibly on their side.

This will set back women’s workplace rights, and the equitable sharing of parental leave, as men will also have to ‘negotiate’ their entitlement to take up leave, it seems from the Telegraph report. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls warned that small companies employing just over the 10-person exemption limit might let go of some workers to shirk having to give proper parental leave.

Photo of graffiti showing a pregnant woman by Petteri Sulonen, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license