Social Policy : Commission Proposes Fully Paid 18-Week Maternity Leave

Article excerpt

"An answer to demographic developments" is how Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla has described the European Commission's social package, in reference to the Union's slowly greying' population. The EU executive adopted the package, which aims to "reconcile work and family life," on 3 October.

The social package consists of two legislative proposals, one on improving terms of maternity leave and the other on equal treatment of the self-employed and their life-partners, as well as a policy document explaining the background and context of the proposals and a report on the progress towards the EU's child care targets.

"We want to make it easier for women to reconcile work and children. We have seen that a lot of women in the EU work part time or don't work any more after they have given birth. That is why these measures are necessary," Spidla said on 3 October.aStatistics show that a lot of women stop working or work only part time after giving birth. Member states with effective reconciliation policies' have more women participating in the labor market as their birth rates are also higher.

Under the package, the duration of maternity leave will be extended from the current 14 weeks (under Directive 92/85/EEC) to 18 weeks, as per the International Labour Organisation's recommendation. According to Spidla, "a survey has shown that this would give women more time to get their new family situation under control. It indirectly increases their participation in the labour market". Member states may opt for longer maternity leaves.

For some member states this would entail extra financial burden, although Spidla rushed to point out that this should be seen as an investment rather than a cost. Currently, the paid maternity leave is 14 weeks in Germany and Malta, 15 weeks in Belgium, 16 weeks in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Estonia and Luxembourg, and 17 weeks in Ireland.

UEAPME, the European craft and SME employers' organisation, has expressed its concerns regarding the initiative on maternity leave, stating that there is no evidence that the current rules are not sufficient. UEAPME is afraid the new directive will entail new costs and difficulties for small employers. …