A group of MEPs who represent their political groups on the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee have written to Irish Minister of State for Equality Kathleen Lynch calling on her and other EU Ministers to move “the Maternity Leave dossier out of the current deadlock.”

EU plans for 18-weeks compulsory paid maternity leave were extended by the European Parliament to 20 weeks in October 2010. Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis was able to secure a postponement of the damaging proposals by requesting an impact assessment of the 20-week leave.

The impact assessment showed that the costs to both small businesses and to the public purse would be crippling, with the plans costing the UK economy at least £2.5 billion (€2.9bn) a year. Since then Member States, who must approve the proposals before the legislation can come into force, have chosen not to bring move forward with the 20-week leave plan.

However, spurred on by Ireland’s Minister of State for Equality, Labour’s Kathleen Lynch, who is understood to support the proposal, a group of MEPs have called on the Irish Presidency of the EU to unblock the bottleneck saying that it was “the duty of all parties involved in the legislative procedure to make it work” and reminding Lynch “of the discontent of the European Parliament.”

Marina Yannakoudakis was one of the few MEPs who refused to sign the letter.

The London MEP condemned the letter saying: “MEPs need to get their priorities straight. At a time of austerity and rising unemployment, companies and governments cannot afford to pay pregnant workers 20 weeks’ worth of maternity pay.

“We need family-friendly policies in order for women to live up to their full potential at work, but it should not be up to the EU to decide how much time new mothers and fathers should take off. That is a matter for national governments and an individual’s personal choice.

“And worst of all, by inflexibly insisting on 20-weeks maternity leave, MEPs are making it more difficult, not easier for women to get on in the workplace. As the upcoming European Council meeting addresses the question of youth unemployment, heads of EU governments need to ask themselves whether 20-weeks paid maternity leave would make young women more or less employable.”