EU proposals to increase maternity leave to a minimum of 18 weeks – shelved before the European elections – have been revived, Marina Yannakoudakis, women`s committee spokesman and Milan Cabrnoch, employment spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, warned today.

The Women`s Committee has this morning debated the proposals which were rejected by the parliament in May. The European Commission originally proposed that maternity leave be extended to 18 weeks on full pay but the women`s committee vote proposed extending this to 20 weeks. The first six weeks would be on compulsory full pay and the rest of the leave would be at 85% of salary. At least six weeks would have to be taken after the birth to encourage women to breastfeed.

In the UK, an employee can take 52 weeks of leave. During the first six weeks the employer must pay 90 per cent of the average earnings, then a further 33 weeks are paid at Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) of £123.

In the Czech Republic, an employee is allowed to take between 14 and 28 weeks of maternity leave with 60% of the latest salary paid by the employer.

The directive would also introduce a compulsory period of two weeks of paternity leave.

The ECR group is opposing the plans on the basis that a prescriptive one-size-fits-all rule set by the EU could actually harm employment prospects and the flexibility that new parents require.

Mrs Yannakoudakis said:

“Setting rules on maternity and paternity leave from Brussels will just decrease the amount of flexibility new mothers and fathers have.

“Stricter EU rules on maternity leave will make it harder for women of child bearing age to get work, particularly in small businesses. Small business owners with only a handful of staff are struggling to meet payroll costs already, without the EU forcing them to pay a member of staff for five months without a day`s work.

“Once again we are seeing how well-intentioned EU employment law is actually exacerbating our unemployment crisis.”

Mr Cabrnoch said:

“The EU adds no value by dictating maternity policies of national governments. We all want adequate maternity and paternity leave but it should be for elected governments to decide how much their economy can afford to give. Such decisions should not be imposed by the EU.

“In the present economic climate surely we should be making it easier for people to gain employment, not placing obstacles in their way.”