Planet PC decision will create problems for women workers.

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EU laws guarantee employed pregnant workers and new mothers an income during a 14 week maternity leave period at least equivalent to that to which they would be entitled if off work sick. Currently the UK exceeds that minimum, giving pregnant women 52 weeks maternity leave. If the worker qualifies she will receive 39 weeks pay, six weeks of it paid at 90 per cent of her average weekly pay, followed by 33 weeks on the current rate of Statutory Maternity Pay (£124.88 a week). The remaining 13 weeks are unpaid.

Huge consternation has now been expressed as the European Parliament voted last week to increase maternity pay to 20 weeks at the worker’s full rate of pay. At a time of serious economic instability and draconian cuts, it’s impossible to understand the logic of adopting the measure at this time (MEPS voted for the proposal by 390 votes to 192). On hearing of the vote, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost, said: ‘On the day that the Chancellor announces £83billion worth of cuts to Government spending, it is outrageous that the UK Exchequer could be saddled with a bill for nearly £3billion.’

The move has been opposed by the UK Government. It’s predicted that the extra right would cost the economy an additional £2.5billion a year and British business has stated clearly that we cannot afford it. Further, increasing the right to 20 weeks on full pay could amount to a tax on employing women. Spokesman for the Institute of Directors Alistair Tebbit said: ‘The Government needs to block this terrible proposal. The state can’t afford 20 weeks of maternity pay at 100 per cent of earnings. If this measure comes into force the Government may require employers to pick up the £2.5billion bill, or at least a big part of it. The effect on small firms, almost none of which can afford to supplement statutory maternity pay, would be very severe.’

MEPs are being warned that proposed new maternity rights, far from supporting women will create such a problem for employers that it will have the effect of turning the clock back to the 1920s for female employment. Raising the amount of fully paid maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks may well have the effect of driving business away from employing young women. It may introduce another form of glass ceiling for women, damaging their prospects not only of promotion, but also their initial recruitment.’

London Tory MEP Marina Yannakoudakis said the move was bad for business and bad for women’s choice. She went on to say, ‘Sometimes I wonder what planet MEPs live on. I fear that we have short-sightedly increased the chances of young women being indirectly discriminated against in an already tough marketplace.’

Much of the cost of maternity leave is funded by the taxpayer, but businesses fear that budget constraints could see much of the increase passed on to employers. The Department for Business has said that while it is disaapointed, this is not the end of the process. The UK will work hard to oppose the imposition of a requirement for fully-paid maternity leave.

EU ministers will now consider the result of the vote, but it could take months to reach a final conclusion.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in the practical application of employment law as well as providing employment law training and HR support services. For more information, visit our website at or call a member of the team on 0845 644 8955.

Russell HR Consulting offers HR services to businesses nationwide, including Buckinghamshire (covering Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Banbury, Northampton, Towcester and surrounding areas), Nottinghamshire (covering Chesterfield, Mansfield, Nottingham, Sheffield, Worksop and surrounding areas) and Hampshire (covering Aldershot, Basingstoke, Reading, Farnborough, Fareham, Portsmouth, Southampton and surrounding areas).

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