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Maternity Leave Plan Rejection ‘Not The End Of The Line’

European Ministers Oppose Proposals


The rejection of new proposals to extend maternity leave at full pay to 20 weeks is just the start of the debate around potential changes, an employment law expert at Irwin Mitchell has suggested.

European ministers have stood against the plans, which would see the current minimum increase from 14 weeks. The UK is one of several countries in opposition, with estimates suggesting the move could prove costly for businesses.

It is believed that no final decision on the plans is likely before the start of 2011.

 “This is a good sign for employers, but is not the end of the line for the proposal to increase compulsory maternity leave and pay,” says Glenn Hayes of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors. 

“Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency, has indicated that they will draw up a new compromise plan in order to bring the Directive into force.  However, it is widely expected that this will reflect the EU Commission’s original proposal for women to be entitled to 18 week’s paid maternity leave, at or above the rate of sick pay which will not result in an increase to statutory maternity pay for UK businesses.

“However, there are other proposals that are still in the mix.  For example, the EU Commission are looking to extend compulsory maternity leave from two to six weeks.  Whilst very few women return to work within six weeks of taking maternity leave, those entitled to some bonuses will receive more money because the additional four weeks must be treated as time worked for the purposes of the bonus calculation.

“The original plan also required employers to give breastfeeding mothers two daily breastfeeding breaks of one hour each.  The Government has already indicated in its recent White Paper on ‘Healthy lives, healthy people’ that it will encourage, rather than compel employers to give additional breaks to breastfeeding mothers.

“Given the current economic climate, it seems unlikely that the changes to maternity leave and pay will take effect without significant amendment, which hopefully will not impact too much on UK businesses.”