The proposal could deter employers from hiring young women
Women will be entitled to full pay for the first 18 weeks of maternity leave under radical EU plans.
The current UK entitlement is six weeks at 90 per cent of average salary, with another 33 weeks at a flat rate of £117.18.
The dramatic extension of existing rights would more than triple the amount currently received by new mothers in Britain – but there are concerns that the proposal could deter employers from hiring young women, and limit promotions and career opportunities for female workers.
As the recession gets worse it would also leave businesses and the taxpayer saddled with a massive bill. Industry leaders said such a change would damage an economy struggling to recover.
Details of the new maternity pay plan were spelled out by Business Minister Pat McFadden, who said the UK was fighting to block it. The Government faces an uphill battle, however, because most other EU countries support the idea and Britain does not have a veto on it. Ministers are trying to negotiate an opt-out to reduce the salary entitlement.
Jill Kirby, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, the free market economics think-tank, said: ‘This is yet another piece of EU legislation that is going to impose a punishing burden on businesses that are already struggling, as well as the taxpayer. It is a very bad idea during an economic downturn.’
But the European Commission spokesman has said: ‘Given that the mortgage, the rent, the cost of food continues when people are on maternity leave – and there are also the cost increases from having a baby – it makes sense from our point of view.’