Follwing reports a few weeks ago on paternity leave decisions to extend maternity leave by 20 weeks with full pay. The proposal is to be voted on by the European Parliament, but Britain is expected to block the legislation if it is passed by the European Parliament.

An impact assessment on the proposals by the European Parliament found that the cost of the changes to the UK could be €3 billion (£2.5 billion) a year due to the extra recruitment costs

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is urging MEPs to vote against the proposals.

Kieran O’Keeffe, Head of European Affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “MEPs must think carefully about the implications of this directive for already overburdened companies and national social security systems.

“The figures provided in the Parliament’s own impact assessment show that these proposals are completely unaffordable, particularly at a time when governments across the EU are dealing with budget deficits and the aftermath of recession.

“The Commission’s original proposal to extend maternity leave to 18 weeks, but with individual member states continuing to decide the level of pay, is a better, more affordable option.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) believes that the change could cost small businesses £7,000 each and prevent them taking on new staff.

Tina Sommer, EU and International Affairs Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Small businesses are known to be flexible employers and it is unfortunate that maternity and paternity leave is one of the biggest barriers for them when looking to take on staff. The FSB fears that that these changes will result in an increase in the cost of maternity and paternity leave and will mean these costs have to be shared between Government and the employer, at a cost of more than £7,000 to a small business – placing a further strain on cash-flow.”

“These proposals should be about setting minimum EU standards for the health and safety of pregnant workers – not adding new payroll costs for overburdened businesses. This well-intentioned EU employment law will not help small firms take on new members of staff – vital at this time of high unemployment. In the present economic climate we should be making it easier for people to gain employment, not placing obstacles in their way. The FSB is urging MEPs to reject these proposals.”

However, Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said families should be able to choose how long they should be at home to be able to bond with their baby and that the “temporary financial crisis” should not have an impact on policy.