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EU Ministers Reject Proposed Increase to Maternity Leave

10th December, 2010

You may remember that in October 2010, The Tribunal reported that the European Parliament had voted in favour of increasing maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay and making that change mandatory throughout the EU.

Following the approval of Parliament, the matter passed to the Council where the proposed move has been overwhelmingly rejected by the EU Ministers.

The suggestion was first raised by the European Commission back in October 2008, where the proposed amendments to the Pregnant Workers Directive included extending the minimum period of maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks. When the proposals reached Parliament on 20 October 2010, a majority of MEPs voted in favour of increasing the period, not just to 18 weeks, but to 20, and on full pay.

Many member states have been extremely concerned about the proposed increase, including the United Kingdom, with the cost of the proposed changes being estimated at £2.5 billion by the British Chamber of Commerce, which stated that such a cost was simply ‘unaffordable’ given the current financial crisis. Edward Davey (Minister for Employment Relations) flew to Brussels to lobby against the increase, citing not only the cost but the effect the change would have on member states’ plans to develop systems of shared parental leave.

The proposals also included: extending compulsory maternity leave from two to six weeks; ensuring that women received full pay during maternity leave (although member states would be able to specify a ceiling amount of not less than sick pay); and giving women the right to return from maternity leave to the same or an equivalent post on no less favourable terms.

Many of the proposals, for example the right to return to the same position, already exist in the UK. In respect of maternity leave, women are currently entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, which is well in excess of the current minimum period specified by Europe. This is not, however, at full pay. A woman is entitled to be paid 90% of her salary for the first six weeks, followed by a standard rate which is currently £124.88 per week (or 90% of her salary if this is lower) for the following 33 weeks. If a woman opts to take the full 52 weeks, then the remaining time will be taken unpaid (subject to contractual entitlements).

On 6 December 2010, the Council expressed their concerns about the proposed changes (despite there being no official vote), with eight of the members voicing their opposition. Although it looks like an increase to 20 weeks maternity leave will no longer be introduced, it is likely that this will not be the end of the matter. It has been reported that Belgium, which currently hold the EU presidency, will draw up a new plan which will represent more of a compromise. It is possible that the new proposals may see a return to the Commission’s original proposal for women to be entitled to 18 weeks paid maternity leave, to be paid at a rate which is at least equal to sick pay.

If you have any concerns regarding your maternity or ‘family friendly’ policies, please do not hesitate to contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or email here here. Alternatively please visit

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