The European Parliament has voted in favour of extending both maternity and paternity leave across Europe.
The proposal calls for the minimum period of maternity leave to be extended from 14 to 20 weeks fully paid. It also approved an entitlement to paid paternity leave of two weeks.
The European Commission has meanwhile recommended a less generous package of 18 weeks maternity leave, either on full pay or at a rate at or above the level of sick pay.
A conciliation procedure will now begin to find a compromise between the two positions.
In Irish law, women are entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave and are paid maternity benefit of between €225 and €270 per week.
16 weeks of unpaid leave is also available.
The European Parliament is now considering that women should receive full pay while on maternity leave.
A number of Irish employers, including the civil service and some in the public service, pay their employees full pay while on maternity leave.
Employers' groups have suggested that improved maternity provisions could hamper women's employment prospects.