EC move will raise maternity pay: Thousands of pregnant women to benefit from directive despite employers' objections

THOUSANDS of working women will benefit from a European Community maternity scheme that Britain must implement by autumn next year.

In spite of opposition from some employers, an extra 250,000 women a year will receive higher payments compared with the 100,000 who qualify under current rules. Women will also have greater flexibility over when to begin their maternity leave under the scheme, contained in the Directive on the Protection of Pregnant Women at Work.

The changes set out in a Department of Social Security consultation document yesterday provoked anger from business leaders, who attacked the Government's decision that employers should fund the additional costs - up to pounds 65m - involved.

The paper conceded that small employers might need special help but Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, said: 'It would not be right to pass on the amount to the general taxpayer, who already meets the existing cost of statutory maternity pay.' The Institute of Directors said businesses were being 'lumbered with what was essentially a social cost' flowing from the EC Social Charter.

The measures are among those least likely to appeal to many Government supporters and right-wing MPs. But women are guaranteed the rights which the Government accepted in 1991 - before Britain's Maastricht opt-out on the Social Chapter - and is legally obliged to enact in full no later than October 1994.

The directive lays down a right for women to return to their jobs after at least 14 weeks' maternity leave without needing a minimum period of continuous service. The minimum payment during the 14 weeks must at least equal the state benefit payable for sickness absence - which means the current 'lower rate' statutory maternity pay (SMP) must be increased.

In addition, more of the existing enhanced 'higher rate' SMP will have to be paid out because women will qualify for it after working for their employers for 37 weeks instead of two years. About 70,000 to 80,000 women are expected to benefit from that change. It is these additional costs, averaging about pounds 290 per worker, Mr Lilley believes employers should pay.

Ann Robinson, the institute's head of policy, said: 'These proposals could hurt the people they are intended to help. The extra cost involved in employing women of childbearing age could handicap their employment prospects.' But Dr Marjorie Mowlam, Labour spokeswoman on women's issues, said: 'This is a minimalist approach proposed by a mean-minded Government. Under both options put forward in the consultative document one in five women will continue to have no rights whatsoever to statutory maternity pay.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Turner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established manufactu...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral