09/10/2012 04:16 BST

Maternity Leave 'Should Be Scrapped' Idea Sparks Row

Does maternity leave really create a "burden" on women trying to get ahead in business?

According to Sheila Lawlor from the thinktank Politeia the answer's a resounding yes.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph she writes: "Companies are reluctant to give jobs to women of childbearing age."

The comments come on the same day as George Osborne suggested workers could swap some of their maternity rights for shares in a company, in a speech to the Conservative party conference.

Vivienne Hayes, Chief Executive Women's Resource Centre told The Huffington Post UK the argument against maternity leave were "questionable."

"Suggesting maternity leave be scrapped is yet another conservative idea which clearly points to their direction of travel for women; we should all stay at home and take care of our families, unless we can afford to buy in childcare services and have the "privilege" of the choice of a career," she said.

"This seems all the more questionable given that more and more families need both parents to be in employment in order to survive, and given that welfare support is being removed.

"Interestingly the roles and responsibilities of fathers are not mentioned once in the article by Sheila Lawlor, so we must assume that the idea of more shared parenting is not one she is interested in."

Lawlor, who argues the "family-friendly law is really family and female-unfriendly" suggests that maternity leave can lead to a "downward spiral" for women.

"The evidence is that the hourly pay of mothers with dependent children is less than that of working fathers, compared with what they had before their children.

"After each birth women returning to work have low wage growth, and the pay difference does not start to shrink for 15 years."

Liberal Democrat business minister Jo Swinson has suggested the idea to scrap maternity leave is a "ridiculous idea," writing: "We should let parents *share* leave, not scrap it."

Hayes said: "It is high time that government started to come up with creative, anti discriminatory policies befitting of the 21st Century, which promote flexible working and part time work which is not deemed second rate or second class and which is equally available to men and women."