EU draft on maternity pay extension not an immediate problem for UK employers

HR professionals should not panic about draft European legislation to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay, a leading work-life balance organisation has said.

MEPs in Brussels this week voted in favour of extending maternity leave provisions through the Pregnant Workers’ Directive. They backed an EU-wide extension of maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay.

Current UK rules give pregnant women a full year off, of which six weeks are paid at 90% of the mother’s average pay, followed by 33 weeks on statutory maternity pay of £123 per week – 55% higher than sick pay.

However, Liz Gardiner, policy officer at charity Working Families, said the vote was merely a signal from one particular group and was a long time away from being implemented.

“It has to go through a number of processes in Europe,” she told Personnel Today. “It’s not going to happen here tomorrow, HR doesn’t need to worry now.”

Working Families also suggested that the idea that the changes would have an impact on employability should also not cause alarm as the state – not the employer – pays statutory maternity pay in the UK.

However, David Buckle, a consultant at Cubism Law, warned that such a law might exacerbate discrimination against women of child-bearing age at the more unscrupulous end of the employment market.

He said: “It is more the length of maternity leave and the leave itself that more often gives rise to discrimination, not the payment for that absence, because most of it is centrally recovered.

“The proposals fly in the face of national requests to curb further changes to employment legislation in the UK at a time when businesses are struggling. Even large employers will now be sighing and reaching for their maternity policies to prepare them for yet another amendment.”

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