Commenting on the publication of the Work and Families Bill, David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce said; "Our members fully support the concept of maternity leave and the principle of flexible working. However, employers are concerned about the unprecedented pace and extent of change and the damaging consequences this could have for the operation of their businesses. In our latest survey of 1,200 employers, 80% opposed further extensions to paid maternity leave. Small firms are struggling to cope with layer upon layer of new employment legislation.

In 2003, paid maternity leave increased from 18 weeks to six months. Now, under these proposals, this will increase to nine months and soon to a full year, in addition to new paternity rights and flexible working rights.

David Frost continued: "Small businesses now face tremendous pressures due to the likelihood of losing more key staff for longer periods of time. This could also be an administrative nightmare with employers having to cope with more paid maternity leave, more paid and unpaid paternity leave, shared leave and increased flexible working rights.

"With the economy slowing sharply and the business environment worsening, the Government needs to offer our firms support at this difficult time rather than burdening them with yet more damaging employment legislation."