EU maternity leave law set to be shot down by Commission

Guy Bentley
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A draft directive intended to ensure 20 weeks fully paid maternity leave across the EU looks likely to be blocked by the European Commission under its Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) programme, according to Euractiv.

REFIT is one the European Commission's programmes to make EU law simpler and reduce regulatory burdens to foster growth and job creation.

The Commission has said that areas including electronic VAT invoicing, patents and financial reporting have already been simplified and enjoyed a reduction in red tape.

Within REFIT, the Commission can withdraw proposals it concludes are outdated or do not have the support of the legislator. Altogether, 293 proposals have been withdrawn since 2006.

Adopted in first reading in 2010, the maternity leave directive has been languishing in the EU Council of Ministers for close to four years. EU countries are not bound by law to set a deadline for the directive.

In a communication dated 18 June, the EU executive said: “The Commission considers it good legislative management to withdraw proposals that do not advance in the legislative process […]. These include proposals on […] pregnant workers […].”

News of the withdrawal will come as a welcome relief to UK ministers and business leaders, who back in 2010 vowed to fight the controversial proposals. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has estimated the cost of draft directive could be as high as £2bn per year - twice the current spend on maternity leave.

In 2010, the Institute of Directors said: “Some large businesses won’t mind the change because they are already gold-plating statutory maternity pay by making their own additional payments. But the effect on small firms, almost none of which can afford to supplement statutory maternity pay, would be very severe.”

Minimum maternity leave in the EU is currently set at 14 weeks.