By Marcus Leach

Chris Grayling, Employment Minister, will visit Brussels today (Friday) to continue the UK Government’s lobbying on the Pregnant Workers Directive.

Mr. Grayling will attend a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) during which the Hungarian Presidency will give an update on the Directive. Mr. Grayling will reiterate the UK’s opposition to the proposals put forward by MEPs in October 2010.

The Government is concerned that the measures proposed by MEPs for 20 weeks of maternity leave at full pay will result in considerable costs to Member States when they can least afford it. Ministers also believe the proposals to be socially regressive.

In advance of the meeting, Chris Grayling said:

“The proposals that MEPs put forward are costly for the UK. They are also socially regressive in that those that are earning the most will benefit the most from this.

“When Member States are trying to balance their books in difficult times this is the wrong approach to adopt. Other Ministers and I will continue to lobby against these measures as we have done since October. ”

Employment Relations Minister, Edward Davey said:

“As I have repeatedly made clear, what MEPs have tabled is not the right solution. Minimum standards are important but it should be down to the individual Member States to adopt their own model — not for Europe to dictate this.

“We have recently launched our own consultation that looks at introducing a fully-flexible and family-friendly solution to parental leave that is tailored to suit the UK. Simply saying 20 weeks at full pay, in a one-size fits all format, is not the way forward. I am sure that other Members States agree with us here.”

It is estimated that the proposals put forward by the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and Employment Committee would cost the UK alone more than £2 billion per year.

Following the European Parliament’s position agreed in October 2010, the proposals have now come to EPSCO for Ministers of the 27 EU Member States to consider their position. At the EPSCO meeting last December, the UK joined the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Sweden in signing a formal minutes statement which expressed concern about the proposals. Discussions on the proposed Directive can go no further unless Ministers agree a Common Position.

The UK has recently published the consultation document, ‘Modern Workplaces,’ that looks at introducing a system of flexible parental leave and extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. The consultation ends on 8 August.