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EU maternity proposals ‘could cost business £2.5bn’

EU plans to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay could cost UK firms £2.5 billion a year, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

As the European Parliament prepares to vote on the proposals, which are included in the Pregnant Workers' Directive, the BCC has warned that the changes are ‘completely unaffordable’ in the current economic climate.

It added that MEPs will not be able to make a fully informed decision when they come to vote in October, as the impact assessment only considers the costs and benefits for ten out of the 27 member states.

Currently new mothers are entitled to a year off work, and employers are required to pay the first six weeks on 90% pay. This is then followed by 33 weeks on Statutory Maternity Pay of about £124 a week. The remainder of the leave is unpaid.

Kieran O'Keeffe, head of European affairs at the BCC, said: ‘This 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.

‘These figures confirm that the parliament's proposals are completely unaffordable as governments across the EU seek to deal with budget deficits and the aftermath of recession,’ he added.

However, the chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, Belinda Phipps, welcomed the proposals.

‘It's absolutely right that those people, having had a baby, have the ability to be able to choose to be at home with that baby for a period of time that's going to enable them to feed a baby and build a relationship with a baby,’ she told the BBC. ‘Those babies form the population of the future, so we shouldn't be letting a temporary financial crisis drive our policy on supporting new mothers.’