MEPs back 20-week maternity leave

25th of November 2010

Euro MPs have backed a controversial draft law to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay and make that mandatory in the EU. Minimum maternity leave in the EU is currently 14 weeks. The European Commission now has to find a compromise that will also be acceptable to the member states.

According to the Parliament, a female employee should be entitled to take at least 20 weeks maternity leave when she has a baby, and this should be a minimum standard across all 27 member states.

Under existing EU legislation, which has been in force since 1992, the minimum level of maternity leave is 14 weeks. Many EU countries already have more generous rules on maternity leave, although in some countries parental leave may be shared between the mother and the father.
The question of how much money women should receive while they are on maternity leave has emerged as the most controversial issue – not just in the Parliament, but also among governments, employers and other stakeholders.

Minimum pay level

The Commission had proposed that the minimum level of maternity pay should be based on the level of statutory sick pay in each member state. However the Parliament is calling for women to continue receiving 100 per cent of their regular salary during the whole time that they are on maternity leave, with a limited exemption for countries that operate a system of shared parental leave.

But a number of national governments - in particular Germany and the UK - as well as business and employers' organisations, are strongly opposed to the suggestion women should continue to receive full pay while they are on maternity leave. They say allowing women to take 20 weeks of maternity leave on full pay would be prohibitively expensive, for employers facing difficult economic conditions and governments seeking ways to restrain public spending.

A majority of MEPs also agreed fathers should be entitled to take two weeks of paternity leave following the birth of a new child, while continuing to receive 100 per cent of their usual salary.
The next step will be for the member states to discuss all the issues concerned in the Council of Ministers.


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