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UK - EU maternity leave proposals seen as costly and socially regressive

17 June 2011

Chris Grayling, Employment Minister, will visit Brussels today to continue the UK government's lobbying on the Pregnant Workers Directive.

Grayling will attend a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) during which the Hungarian Presidency will give an update on the Directive. Grayling will reiterate the UK's opposition to the proposals put forward by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in October 2010.

The government is concerned that the measures proposed by MEPs for 20 weeks of maternity leave at full pay will result in considerable costs to member states when they can least afford it. Ministers also believe the proposals to be socially regressive.

In advance of the meeting, Chris Grayling, commented "the proposals that MEPs put forward are costly for the UK. They are also socially regressive in that those that are earning the most will benefit the most from this."

"When member states are trying to balance their books in difficult times this is the wrong approach to adopt. Other Ministers and I will continue to lobby against these measures as we have done since October."

Employment Relations Minister, Edward Davey, said "as I have repeatedly made clear, what MEPs have tabled is not the right solution. Minimum standards are important but it should be down to the individual member states to adopt their own model, not for Europe to dictate this."

"We have recently launched our own consultation that looks at introducing a fully-flexible and family-friendly solution to parental leave that is tailored to suit the UK. Simply saying 20 weeks at full pay, in a one-size fits all format, is not the way forward. I am sure that other members states agree with us here."

It is estimated that the proposals put forward by the Women's Rights and Gender Equality and Employment Committee would cost the UK alone more than 2 billion Pounds per year.

Following the European Parliament's position agreed in October 2010, the proposals have now come to EPSCO for Ministers of the 27 EU Member States to consider their position. At the EPSCO meeting last December, the UK joined the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Sweden in signing a formal minutes statement which expressed concern about the proposals. Discussions on the proposed Directive can go no further unless Ministers agree a Common Position.

The UK has recently published the consultation document, 'Modern Workplaces', that looks at introducing a system of flexible parental leave and extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. The consultation ends on 8 August.

Facts

• In the UK most working women will receive maternity pay when they have a child. Employed women will usually receive Statutory Maternity Pay which is paid at 90% of the woman's average weekly earnings for six weeks, followed by 33 weeks at a standard rate which is currently 128.73 Pounds per week. Women who don't qualify for SMP may receive Maternity Allowance which is paid for 39 weeks at the same standard rate as Statutory Maternity Pay. This is in excess of the current EU requirement that maternity pay must be at least equal to statutory sick pay.

• Under the European Parliament's proposal, a woman earning 10,000 Pounds p.a. would only get +20% more maternity pay, whereas a woman earning 60,000 Pounds p.a. would receive 146% more.

• Currently in the UK, the standard rate means that those on the lowest incomes receive the highest proportion of their usual remuneration. For example, women on an annual salary of 10,000 Pounds pa receive 70% of salary as their total maternity pay during the period of paid leave. On a salary of 30,000 Pounds pa women receive 32% of salary and at 60,000 Pounds pa receive 23%.

• Key elements of the European Parliament's proposal are:

- 20 week's maternity leave, in principle at full pay
- 20 weeks' adoption leave on the same terms
- two weeks' paternity leave at full pay

• Under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (formerly known as the "co-decision" procedure) the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers each adopt a first reading position based on a proposal from the European Commission. Subsequent stages of the legislative process aim to reconcile the positions of the two institutions.

• The European Parliament adopted its first reading position on the Pregnant Workers Directive on 20 October 2010, and the Council of Ministers first discussed that position on 3 December 2010. At the December meeting the UK, along with seven other member states tabled a minutes statement setting out concerns about the European Parliament's proposals. Several other member states spoke along similar lines.

• The Progress Report is a six month update since the last EPSCO meeting in December. Until the Council adopts its first reading position, these proposals will not progress further.

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