Page last updated at 17:39 GMT, Monday, 18 October 2010 18:39 UK

MEPs clash over new maternity laws

MEPs have backed an extension of maternity leave laws to twenty weeks.

During a debate on 18 October 2010, the European Parliament debated a draft law from the European Commission that would have extended minimum maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks.

However upon recommendations from the parliament's Women's Rights Committee a further extension to 20 weeks was backed at the voting session by seven votes.

MEPs also backed an amendment that will make it mandatory for workers on maternity leave to be paid 100% of their salary during their leave.

The original Commission proposal had this purely as a "recommendation".

British Liberal Democrat MEP Liz Lynne said the proposed amendments went "too far" and that it was up to the woman to decide when and how much maternity leave to take off rather than being "dictated to".

However Dutch green MEP Marije Cornelissen accused opponents of the amendments of "selling their soul to short-sighted corporate interests".

A number of MEPs, including Belgian social democrat MEP Marc Tarabella backed a proposal to make two weeks paternity leave a legal requirement.

Speaking on behalf of the Commission, Maros Sefcovic said the 18 week proposal was in line with recommendations of the International Labour Organisation, and that further extensions were not feasible in the current financial situation.

The planned changes have been criticised by many business groups saying it could be crippling to small companies.

The previous Labour government and the current coalition have both stated their opposition to the MEPs' amendments, with claims that it could cost up to £2.4bn a year, double the current costs of maternity payments.

It was originally due to be voted on in March, but this was postponed whilst an impact assessment study was carried out.

Parliament also inserted an amendment that would prevent workers from performing night work or overtime in the 10 weeks leading up to childbirth.

The draft law will return to the Council of Ministers who will decide whether to accept or reject the amendments inserted by the European Parliament.

Read more here at Democracy Live's guide to the European Parliament plenary sessions.

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