The European Parliament has voted to amend the Pregnant Workers Directive to extend the minimum period of maternity leave across EU member states to 20 weeks on full pay.

The UK's current maternity entitlements allow women to take up to 52 weeks maternity leave, of which up to 39 weeks are paid. However, at the moment, maternity pay for the majority of the 39 paid weeks is capped at the statutory rate of £124.88 per week. Clearly, the proposals to switch to 20 weeks' full pay would mean a substantial increase in the cost of maternity leave for employers and/or for the Government (if employers were allowed to recover their maternity pay costs from the state).

The European Council of Ministers must now consider whether to endorse the EU Parliament's proposals, and it is likely that the proposals will be subject to amendment. The UK Government is reported to be already lobbying against the proposals.