The UK, along with 13 other member states of the European Union (EU), appear to have derailed the Pregnant Workers Directive indefinitely.

The 14 states refused to adopt a progress report to the Employment and Social Affairs Council (EPSCO) last Friday and the UK government now hopes that the Commission will drop the directive altogether as discussions cannot progress unless ministers agree a “common position”.

In its original proposal for a directive two years ago, the Commission suggested increasing the minimum level of maternity leave in the EU from 14 to 18 weeks, in line with standards developed by the International Labour Organisation.

But on 20 October last year, the European Parliament adopted its first reading position on the directive. It voted to set the minimum leave period at 20 weeks, with women receiving full pay for the entire time.

The Council of Ministers discussed that decision at the EPSCO meeting in 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.

The employment minister, Chris Grayling, says that the government does not object just because the proposals would cost the UK more than £2 billion per year, but because the proposals are “socially regressive”.

This, he says, is because under the European Parliament’s proposals, a woman earning £10,000 a year would only get 20 per cent more maternity pay, whereas a woman earning £60,000 would receive 146 per cent more.

The situation now is effectively a stalemate. Under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (formerly known as the “co-decision” procedure) the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers each adopt a first reading position based on a proposal from the Commission.

Subsequent stages of the legislative process aim to reconcile the positions of the two institutions. Until the Council adopts its first reading position, these proposals cannot move on.