MEP’s plan to extend paid maternity leave to 20 weeks blocked in current form by Euro ministers

10th December 2010

MEP’s plan to extend paid maternity leave to 20 weeks blocked in current form by Euro ministers

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On 6th December 2010, EU plans to increase paid maternity leave to 20 weeks were labelled unworkable by EU Ministers who confirmed they could not adopt this increase at a time when countries were imposing economic constraints.

In the UK, women on maternity leave are entitled to 39 weeks paid maternity leave (with the remaining weeks unpaid). The first six weeks are paid at 90% of their salary and then at the current statutory maternity rate of £124.88 per week.

In October 2008, the European Commission (composed of countries’ representatives appointed by our governments) had proposed to amend the Pregnant Workers Directive to increase the minimum period of maternity leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks with at least six weeks on full pay.

In October 2010, the European Parliament (who were elected directly by us in June 2009) passed draft legislation to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay. In response, the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that the Government was very concerned about the cost to businesses of this proposal.

Earlier this week, Ed Davey, Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs at BIS met with other EU Ministers to lobby against the planned increase. The result of this meeting is that this proposal is blocked in its current form.

According to the Telegraph http://bit.ly/hcwl7Q the Belgian employment minister was quoted as saying “The very, very great majority of member states consider the parliament went too far in offering to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks, with 100pc pay – that is not a basis for negotiation.”

What happens next? Well, the ball is in the court of the Council of Ministers (composed of our relevant ministers), which must adopt its first reading position and reach compromise before it goes back to the Commission.

This means that any change to maternity leave will take some time before UK employers need to worry about it. Any change in the length of compulsory maternity leave is unlikely to extend our current maternity leave. 52 weeks’ maternity leave the UK already goes far beyond the recommended increase in maternity leave.

As for the increase in maternity pay, if it stays as per the Council proposal of six weeks, UK employers will not be affected. If it goes beyond six weeks, the impact of the increase will fall on UK employers and UK tax payers as many UK employers can recover maternity pay from their National Insurance bill.

However, a number of commentators have speculated that, if this proposal had been passed, it would have resulted in businesses finding ways to avoid employing women.

This may sound like a bit of scare mongering, but a good few years ago, when the maternity leave and pay were extended, the MD of a subsidiary company of one of our clients dictated a memo to his head company CEO listing all the women in the subsidiary of ‘child bearing age’ with a recommendation that they be sacked immediately. As you can imagine, he was the employee that ended up in trouble, particularly since he dictated this to his secretary who was on the list.

What is clear is that while the EU parliament were willing to vote through this proposal, the EU ministers have a keener eye on the cost to businesses and their current electorate. Consequently, there is going to be some serious negotiation on this point and no one is likely to be in a hurry to reach agreement.

 

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