EU seeks more time out for working mothers
October 6, 2008 Leave a Comment
The European Commission unveiled Friday plans to extend minimum maternity leave in Europe by around a month, putting pressure on several EU nations to offer more support to working mothers.
The plans would also help improve the rights of self-employed women by allowing them to take maternity leave should they wish to, and Brussels hopes to go further in future by boosting other forms of family leave.
“Having children too often costs women their income and their job prospects,” said EU Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla.
“Our proposals to improve maternity leave will help women to combine work and family life, improving their and their family’s quality of life,” he said.
The plan would see minimum maternity leave swell from 14 to 18 weeks and recommend that the new mothers be paid their normal salary, although EU nations would have the right to set it at the level of sick pay.
It would make leave for working mothers and mums-to-be more flexible, dropping rules in some countries that a certain portion be taken before childbirth. The states could also offer more leave if they wanted.
The 27 EU nation states, generally ill-disposed to harmonising social rules, must all back the plan for it to enter force. It must also be endorsed by the European Parliament.
Germany has already criticised the proposals, with family affairs minister Ursula von der Leyen saying they would “increase financial risks for employers who hire young women.”
She said the conditions would have a “boomerang” effect and prove to be a handicap for young women looking for jobs.
Spidla said the plans would cost 0.006 percent of European gross domestic product, which he calculated would come to around four percent at most for some countries, and nothing at all for others.
“It will only cost a fraction of the aid that is being offered to banks at the moment,” he said. “It’s an investment not a cost” which will “allow people to better organise their lives”.
Under current EU law, dating from 1992, a minimum 14 weeks of maternity leave must be given throughout Europe, two weeks of which are compulsory before or after the birth.
Other texts insist that a woman must be able to return to an equivalent job after.
The new rules would give women at least 18 consecutive weeks maternity leave, six of which could be taken after the birth, with the rest available either before or later on.
The plans are in line with International Labour Organisation recommendations.
Currently the length of maternity leave, and how it is paid, varies widely from country to country.
Germany offers the 14-week minimum, while women in France, the Netherlands and Spain are entitled to 16 weeks.
Among the most generous EU states are Britain and Ireland (26 weeks), Slovakia (28 weeks) and Bulgaria, which gives its new mothers the opportunity to take 45 weeks off.
However not all offer fully paid maternity leave the whole time.
Sweden allows eight weeks pre-natal leave and, under a very flexible system which can be transferred to the baby’s father, total leave of more than a year.
The new laws would also help stop employers getting rid of women who have a baby. If a woman is dismissed within six months of returning from maternity leave she would be entitled to have the reasons in writing.
In a separate report, the commission also found that only five countries — Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain — had the minimum number of daycare spaces for children; set at 33 percent of kids aged under three.
Eight countries, many from central and eastern Europe, had less than 10 percent coverage, while places in a further seven states ranged from 16 to 26 percent.
Brussels said this puts more pressure on women to look for flexible work options or give up their jobs altogether.
More information: Work-life balance package – briefing
Source: AFP via EU Business, 5 October 2008