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MEPs Back 20 Weeks Maternity Leave on Full Pay

327 in favour, 320 against

That's how Euro MPs voted on controversial proposals to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay and making that mandatory in the EU.

Conservative MEPs lobbied against the proposal as did many UK business leaders, claiming the 20 week proposal could end up costing UK businesses an extra £2.5 billion per year.

Minimum maternity leave in the EU is currently 14 weeks. 

For women here in the UK, Statutory Maternity Pay is payable for up to 39 weeks.  The first six weeks are payable at the higher rate which is equivalent to 90% of normal earnings. The remaining 33 weeks are payable at the lower of either the standard rate which changes from time to time (currently £124.88) or 90 per cent of average gross weekly earnings.

Businesses can claim back all or most of the money from the government, but many employers say a more generous maternity allowance would be costly for firms - especially small ones - at a time of economic hardship. 

At a time when many businesses, especially small ones, are already struggling, would this be simply be a cost many would struggle to absorb?

The two MEPs spearheading the campaign to extend maternity leave - Edite Estrela from Portugal and Antonyia Parvanova from Bulgaria - have argued that a better work-life balance for women would encourage more of them to stay in work.

Back here in the UK, the jury is still out on the New Equality Act, and the changes it has heralded, many of which have given areas such as indirect discrimination statutory backing, are already giving Employers cause for concern.

Would such a significant change in maternity leave make life even more difficult for UK Employers in this already complex area of employment law?

Well, opponents to the proposed legislation think it would.  Many argue that such a significant change to UK employment law could work against women as it could potentially lead to more instances of indirect discrimination.

Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis, is quoted as saying it is "well-intentioned but completely out-of-step with reality".

So what do you think?  Are provisions for maternity leave in the UK fair enough already or would a shift to 20 weeks maternity leave on full pay be better for families and UK businesses alike?


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