The European Parliament has agreed changes to EU maternity rules, but a key Labour figure has warned that unless changes to the proposals are made, lower earning working mums could lose out.

MEPs today voted to increase the EU minimum level of maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks, calling for women to receive full pay during that period.

The vote doesn’t mean that women have immediately won the new rights. The rules still need agreement from EU governments and they are likely to resist such a significant change to maternity rights.

At present women in the UK are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, receiving 90 per cent of pay for the first six weeks, a further 33 weeks on statutory pay of £124.88 per week, with the remaining period unpaid.

Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s European spokesperson on women’s rights, explained that while there were many positive points to today’s vote, she is uneasy about the way the parliament has approached the issue. She said: “We have serious concerns about some of the proposals on the table. While the idea of 20 weeks on full pay may appear superficially attractive, it could actually hit some of the poorest working women hardest.

“If this proposal were to remain unchanged there is a real danger of the British government cutting back on our existing rights. That means a woman on minimum wage, or a part time worker, could actually end up worse off.

“We must ensure that negotiations over this dossier result in a settlement that won’t leave low earners worse off.”

Government ministers from all the EU countries will now need to reach agreement on what they want from the legislative package. It is thought that the proposals may be blocked by ministers, many of whom want to resist giving women significant new rights.

Mary Honeyball added: “There are a host of really positive outcomes from today’s report, including two weeks of paid paternity leave and the legal right to take breaks for breastfeeding.

“These sorts of rights would help deal with some of the worries many women have about returning to work.

“My fear is that the parliament’s position may actually assist the building of a blocking minority by those governments opposed to giving parents new rights and stop any of these new rights from coming to pass.

“We must now put pressure on ministers to come to the table with workable proposals that will deliver a real improvement in the rights of working mums and dads.”