European Parliament votes for increased maternity rights

The European Parliament will draft legislation to extend minimum maternity leave in the European Union from 14 to 20 weeks with full pay, with some flexibility for countries which already have a form of family-related leave.

An entitlement to paid paternity leave of at least two weeks was also approved by a majority of members.

A majority of members voted in favour of extending the minimum maternity leave, going beyond the European Commission’s proposal to extend it to 18 weeks.

However, members adopted amendments adding that, when family-related leave is available at national level, the last four weeks of the 20 may be regarded as maternity leave and must be paid at least at 75% of salary.

Employees on maternity leave must be paid their full salary, which must be 100% of their last monthly salary or their average monthly salary, states the adopted resolution.

Under the Commission’s original proposal, workers would receive 100% remuneration during the first six weeks of maternity leave. For the remainder of the leave, the Commission recommended granting full pay. This was not to be a binding provision but the amount paid was to be no less than sick pay.

The draft legislation seeks to lay down minimum rules at European Union level. Member states may introduce or keep existing rules that are more favourable to workers than those laid down in the directive.

In October 2008, the Commission proposed to review the current legislation as part of the work-life balance package.

Audrey Williams, partner and head of discrimination law at international law firm Eversheds, said: “Some employers will blanche at the thought of having to accommodate radically extended maternity rights at a time when many businesses are struggling to survive.

“But it is important to bear in mind that the European Parliament’s proposal is a long way from becoming law. The next stage is for it to be put to a vote of national governments, where it will inevitably come under strong attack from some quarters, including the UK and Germany.

“There will be much lobbying from employers’ groups and there is every chance that, ultimately, the plans will be watered down considerably. If rights to maternity pay do end up being enhanced, one question on every employer’s lips will be ‘who is going to pay for it?’

“At present, UK employers can recover from the public purse a large proportion of the amount they pay out in statutory maternity pay. The government will have to decide whether the same rules will apply to any increased maternity pay and, if not, how the cost should be split between taxpayer and employer.”

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