The Pregnant Workers Directive 92/85/EC requires EU Member States to ensure that employed pregnant women and new mothers are guaranteed income during a 14 week maternity leave period at least equivalent to that to which they would be entitled if off work sick. The European Parliament voted on 20 October 2010 in favour of plans to increase to 20 weeks this current 14 week period. A compromise “18 week” suggestion was rejected.
At the same time the Parliament has voted to extend the requirement for compulsory maternity leave from two to six weeks and for paternity leave pay to be at full rate of pay for two weeks.
General details are available on the Europa website “Extending maternity leave to 20 weeks with full pay“.
The Parliament’s proposals will now pass to the Council of Ministers. Given the controversial nature of the proposals it is likely that there will be pressure from Member States to ensure that they are amended before they are formally adopted – and it is even possible that they may be rejected. It can also be argued that the proposals could be counter-productive from the point of view of feminist MEPs in that raising the amount of fully paid maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks will tend to drive private business away from employing young women.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the proposals could end up costing small businesses £7,140 for an employee on an average wage of £25,428.
Tina Sommer, EU and International Affairs Chairman of the FSB said:
“Small businesses are known to be flexible employers and it is unfortunate that maternity and paternity leave is one of the biggest barriers for them when looking to take on staff. The FSB fears that that these changes will result in an increase in the cost of maternity and paternity leave and will mean these costs have to be shared between government and the employer, at a cost of more than £7,000 to a small business – placing a further strain on cash-flow.”