The European Union was accused today of meddling in maternity policy after MEPs backed an EU-wide extension of maternity leave to 20 weeks, with six weeks on full pay.
The European Commission has proposed a minimum 18 weeks’ maternity leave, all of it on full pay.
Under existing EU rules agreed in 1992, minimum maternity leave is set at 14 weeks, with pay for the duration to be no lower than sickness pay in the member state concerned.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) warned that the proposed changes would be costly during an economic downturn.
BCC Director of Policy Adam Marshall said: “The Pregnant Workers Directive should be about setting minimum EU standards for the health and safety of pregnant workers – not adding new payroll costs for overburdened companies and national social security systems.
“This vote introduces complexity and uncertainty, which are totally unnecessary, as the UK and other EU countries already have well-developed national maternity pay systems.
“Companies need to be given the space to deliver growth and jobs – without being hamstrung by new and costly maternity rules.
“As the Directive moves forward, we urge the European Parliament as a whole and the Council to overturn these costly amendments.”
The BCC is urging the UK Government to demand a three-year moratorium on new EU employment law, unless it can be shown that the legislation will create jobs.
Britain's Tory MEPs said maternity leave should be a matter for national authorities alone.
“Stricter EU rules on maternity leave will make it harder for women of child bearing age to get work, particularly in small businesses,” said London Conservative Marina Yannakoudakis.
“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.”
Today’s committee vote will now be passed to the full European Parliament for consideration.