Sunday

25th Aug 2019

EU parliament urges 20-week maternity leave

Euro-deputies on Wednesday (20 October) resisted pressure from national capitals and voted in favour of extending maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks in all EU countries. The bill is likely to be watered down in the final version agreed with austerity-driven member states.

"Maternity cannot be regarded as a burden on social security systems, it is an investment in our future," argued Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela, in charge of drafting the parliament's position.

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  • Member states are not eager to double their payments for newborn babies (Photo: kton25)

Adopted by 390 votes in favour, 192 against and 59 abstentions, the bill aims to raise the minimum legal period for maternity leave from 14 weeks paid at sick leave levels to a fully-paid period of 20 weeks, including two weeks for the father.

This goes beyond the EU Commission's original proposal, which called for an extension to 18 weeks, out of which only the first six would have been fully paid. For the remainder of the leave, the commission only "recommended" granting full pay.

Austerity-driven member states, notably Great Britain, are openly against the bill, which would double the cost of maternity payments at a time when London is announcing overall budget cuts of 25 percent.

Britain currently has the EU's longest maternity leave, at 52 weeks. But only the first six weeks are paid at a 90 percent level, the rest being allocated at a fixed rate for everyone. Other countries, such as Estonia, have already more than 20 fully paid weeks and are not really affected by the bill.

The European Conservatives group in the legislature, echoing the position of the ruling Conservatives in Britain, pointed to "crippling cost for businesses" and called on national governments - who will now have their say on the draft law - to "stand fast in opposing the parliament's position."

"For a parliament that claims to be in favour of women's rights and against discrimination, I fear that we have short-sightedly increased the chances of young women being indirectly discriminated against in an already tough marketplace," British Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis said in a statement.

Small and medium enterprises also reacted negatively to the proposal.

"Unfortunately, today's vote shows once more that many MEPs are out of touch with the business reality," Andrea Benassi from the European craft and small and medium enterprises organisation (UEAPME) said in a statement.

The organisation points to the fact that a mere increase from 14 to 20 weeks will not change much for young mothers, unless childcare facilities and flexible work arrangements are also part of the solution.

"European small employers should not be weighed down with more burdens and costs, and the same is true to a very large extent for national public finances. We hope that the European Council will realise what is at stake, reject the requests made by the Parliament and revert to a more reasonable solution," Mr Benassi added.

EU justice and fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding said the EU commission will act as an "honest broker" between member states and parliament, whose proposal she labelled as "very ambitious."

"If we want to move towards gender equality in the work place, we must find the right balance between concrete rights for mothers and the current economic realities facing businesses in the EU," she said.

"I would like to see a balanced text that keeps women in the job market while not putting too much burden on member states' finances, notably in a time when budgets are being cut across Europe."

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