Employment Council : Proposal to Extend Maternity Leave Remains in Limbo

Article excerpt

Paradoxical as it may seem, several EU member states (the Nordic countries and also Spain) believe that the eventual adoption of the European Commission's proposal to extend maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks would increase gender inequality. They call for the inclusion of paternal leave', which would allow fathers access to paid parental leave following the birth of a child. The public debate held during the EU employment ministers' 9 March meeting reaffirmed the complexity of the European Commission's October 2008 proposal to "improve the safety and health of pregnant workers or workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding" through amendments toaDirective 92/85/EE. In the words of Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, after the 9 March debate, "There is still a lot of work to do".

The other key point in the proposal is that women should be entitled to their full salary during the 18-week maternity leave. Certain member states, along with the business organisations, fear that this could negatively affect women's participation in the labour market. The UK's representative said that fully paid leave was "unnecessary". "This will lead to major problems, in particular for those member states which have longer leaves," he argued. In the UK, women are entitled to 39 weeks of paid maternity leave. He emphasised that the member states' national systems differ widely, and said that the same applied to the costs associated with changing the legislation. …