The Council of the European Union has rejected plans to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay due to the financial implications for member states.
A large majority of ministers said that the requested extension of the minimum maternity leave to 20 weeks did not constitute an appropriate basis for negotiations.
The Belgian presidency concluded that the original proposal to extend maternity leave to 18 weeks on full pay would be a more suitable measure to discuss and this will now be looked at. The minimum length of maternity leave in the EU currently stands at 14 weeks.
The UK Government lobbied against the 20-week extension on the basis that it could cost UK business an extra £2.5 billion per year.
Edward Davey, minister for employment relations, told a meeting in Brussels this week that the proposals “would be extremely costly to business and also to the public purse”.
“They are also socially regressive – the greatest benefits would be obtained by those earning the most – and the rigid model being proposed would make it hard for countries to develop systems of shared parental leave which would offer better support to working parents,” he added.
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.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that they were disappointed the plans had been rejected but hope the 18-week proposal will be approved.
“The UK has one of the shortest periods of fully paid leave in the EU, so extending it to 18 weeks will benefit the millions of families who struggle financially when having a baby,” he added.
“Government research shows that increasing maternity pay encourages women to return to their employer. Ministers should be encouraging this, not looking for new ways to impoverish parents.”