European Parliament votes in favour of maternity leave extension

Members of the European Parliament have backed plans to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay, despite opposition from UK business groups and the coalition Government.

Personnel Today reported yesterday that business groups had labelled the European Parliament’s maternity leave proposals “ludicrous and unwelcome”.

Member states will also have to back the plans before they can become law. The UK Government is expected to seek to block the proposals, which are estimated would cost the UK £2.5 billion a year.

Currently, UK employers are required to pay pregnant women six weeks’ salary at 90% of their average earnings, followed by 33 weeks’ statutory maternity pay at £125 per week.

Philip Henson, employment partner at law firm Bargate Murray, is concerned that if the law is passed it could reverse the downward trend of sex discrimination cases.

“I fear that the new law could usher in a return to the shadowy days when some employers were reluctant to employ young women,” he said.

“The law could bring yet another unwelcome glass ceiling for women blocking not only their upward advancement, but also their initial recruitment.”

However, the TUC has argued that better maternity rights result in more women returning to work after childbirth.

TUC head of employment rights Sarah Veale said: “Poorly paid maternity leave risks women feeling pressurised to go back sooner than they are ready to do so, which can mean having to accept jobs with lower status and pay or dropping out altogether.

“The UK economy loses £23 billion every year by failing to utilise women’s skills. Extending maternity leave will help tackle this waste.”

Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour spokesperson in the European Parliament Women’s Rights Committee, has described the proposals as a backward step, hitting the UK’s least well off. In an article on the Guardian she highlighted that a woman on the minimum wage would be around £650 worse off under the new proposals than under the current UK system.

The European Parliament vote on extending matenity leave to 20 weeks resulted in 327 in favour and 320 against. On the issue of full pay during this period, 354 MEPs voted for and 308 against.

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