Health : Maternity Leave: Council Strongly Opposed to 20 Weeks

Article excerpt

The progress report by the Belgian EU Presidency, dated 26 November 2010 and detailing the Council's position on the draft directive on improving the occupational health and safety of workers who are pregnant, have recently given birth or are breastfeeding, is not particularly pleasing to many delegations: the Netherlands expressed a general reservation while Denmark, France, Malta and the United Kingdom expressed parliamentary scrutiny reservations.

Given the split between the European Parliament and the Council on lengthening the minimum maternity leave and establishing paternity leave at a European level, the Belgian Presidency had placed this item on the agenda of the Employment and Social Affairs Council on 6 December (see separate article).

Generally speaking, the Council - whose first-reading position is awaited - firmly rejects the fully-paid 20-week leave defended by the European Parliament, but is more flexible on the Commission's idea of 18 weeks of leave. At the two meetings of the Social Affairs working group in November, many delegations indicated that they could not accept Parliament's position, arguing the costs and harmful effects of a 20-week period of leave on the job market for women. A number of delegations also stressed the diversity of situations in the member states and the need to respect the subsidiarity principle. For now, two thirds of EU countries have fully-paid maternity leave of 18 weeks or less, and many consider that the existing national systems should not be changed.

SOME ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

Nineteen member states rejected the idea of 20 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave, while only a few delegations said they could accept a 20-week period of leave (provided they could determine the level of remuneration themselves). The Council seems more inclined to accept a minimum maternity leave of 18 weeks. It is backed by the European Commission, which "is not prepared to lower its ambitions and will maintain its proposal for a minimum leave of 18 weeks," as Commissioner Maros efcovic (institutional relations and administration) explained in late September. …