February 24 2010.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) has hit out at the European Parliament's plans to introduce full pay for the first 20 weeks of maternity leave.

The Parliament's Women's Rights Committee voted in favour of the move, and several other measures extending maternity and paternity benefits, late yesterday. (Tuesday 23 February)

Commenting on the move, FPB chief executive Phil Orford said: "This couldn't come at a worse possible time for small business owners as they struggle with a limp economic recovery and a highly uncertain future.

"Of course new parents need to be able to spend time with their babies but we believe the existing arrangements are generous enough. Small businesses don't have indefinite financial resources at the best of times - in the current climate, I don't know how many could afford to pay for this."

Mr Orford added: "If they go ahead, these plans will impose yet another major cost on small businesses when they can least afford it. I would urge MPs to do everything they can to make sure they don't make it into British law. "

Recent research found that almost half of FPB members (46%) believe maternity and paternity laws seriously hinder their businesses.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming 84% were unhappy for maternity leave to be extended to 12 months.