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Europe - Maternity leave proposals rejected

21 June 2011

The government has welcomed moves to shelve European Union (EU) maternity leave plans which would have cost the Treasury an extra 2.5 billion Pounds a year, The Independent newspaper reports.
EU ministers meeting in Luxembourg decided by a majority to ditch proposals to extend minimum maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay.

For months the UK has warned the extension, pushed by MEPs, would cost too much and might prejudice the employment of women.

Current EU rules, agreed in 1992, set minimum maternity leave at 14 weeks, with pay for the duration to be no lower than sickness pay in the member state concerned.

The European Commission decided in 2008 to increase the benefit, proposing 18 weeks' maternity leave, with the exact pay rate left to national authorities.

In October last year MEPs went even further, guaranteeing a tussle not just with the UK but with other member states with relatively generous national schemes, such as Germany, Belgium and Spain.

Current UK rules give pregnant women up to a full year off, six weeks of it paid at 90% of the mother's average pay, followed by 33 weeks on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) of 124.88 Pounds per week, 55% higher than sick pay. The rest is unpaid.

Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, said "there is a clear view across a majority of member states that we simply cannot afford the EU's proposals, and that in any case these are matters that should be dealt with by national governments. I very much hope that the Commission will now drop this plan."

Employment Relations Minister, Ed Davey, added "this is a good result. The fact that so many other member states have echoed our worries sends a clear message that this one-size-fits-all measure is not in the best interests for Europe and certainly not in the best interests for the UK."

Commission officials signalled they would now be looking for a compromise plan to present to ministers later this year.


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