New maternity rules branded 'madness'

New European maternity legislation could cost the UK £2.5bn a year. Probably not the best timing, chaps...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
More news hot off the desks of the European Union’s finest policymakers: they’ve hatched a plan to change maternity rights, extending the period during which women are entitled to full pay from six weeks to 20. Businesses are, not surprisingly, up in arms about the proposals, which will apparently cost £2.5bn a year if they’re approved after voting next month. While we understand that the EU is only trying to make life as easy as possible for women who want to work and have children at the same time, it doesn’t take a genius to see that with all the financial pressures already on businesses, now might not be the best time to do it.

Businesses have already argued against current legislation, which entitles women to six weeks on 90%, 33 weeks on statutory maternity pay (a pretty measly £124 a week – particularly when you have Osh Kosh baby clothes to stock up on), and another 13 weeks unpaid. For many small businesses, that’s already a bit of a stretch – so the extra cost on top of that could cripple them. Business organisation the British Chambers of Commerce has already hit back, calling it ‘eye-watering’.

And while on the surface of it, the move might come across as supportive to working mothers, the opposite is likely to be true. Given that paying for maternity leave is already expensive for most businesses, the idea of shelling out for another 14 weeks on full pay may well put businesses off employing women. In fact, The Institute of Directors has already branded it a ‘tax on employing women’.

Either way, with the most severe squeeze on spending in a generation due to take place in the next few weeks, we can’t imagine the Coalition being too enthusiastic about the proposals. The vote on it is due to take place next month, but if comments by British MEPs are anything to go by, they may well not pass muster. Godfrey Bloom, a UK Independence Party MEP, called it ‘madness’. ‘These economic lunatics in Europe seem to be unable to understand a basic fact. There is no point in maternity leave, if there are no jobs to take that leave from.’ Er, quite.

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