By Claire West

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is urging all ministers meeting at the EU Employment and Social Affairs Council on Monday 6 December to reject outright the European Parliament's proposals to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks.

The FSB has previously calculated that EU plans to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks will cost small businesses an extra £7,000 per employee with the total cost to the economy standing at £2.5 billion. The FSB urges Ed Davey MP, who will be at the meeting, to fight against the introduction these of new and burdensome laws voted for by MEPs.

The FSB firmly believes it should be up to member states to decide how parental leave works. In the UK, the FSB believes parents should be able to receive the full entitlement to statutory maternity or paternity over the time they want off, to help to instil employer confidence as to when their skilled workforce will return to work. This will also help clarify the confusing and burdensome systems currently in place - without adding any extra costs to the business.

Tina Sommer, EU and International Affairs Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said:

"We urge the European Council to reject controversial proposals on maternity leave voted for by MEPs in October and urge Ed Davey MP to vote accordingly.

"It is vital to have adequate, flexible maternity and paternity leave but it should be for elected Governments to decide how much their economy can afford to give on leave and pay and how this should be delivered.

"In the present economic climate we should be making it easier for people to gain employment, not placing obstacles in their way. The minister has a real chance at the summit to ensure that these proposals are brought to a close so that maternity and paternity leave are no longer perceived as a barrier when taking on new members of staff."