The European Commission proposed last week to extend EU-wide mandatory maternity leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks giving women “longer and better” maternity leave with full salary benefits. Today, maternity leave currently varies from 14 weeks in Germany to 18 months in Sweden, with many countries offering less than 18 weeks.
Aimed at improving the “work-life balance” of the Europeans, the proposals called for stronger protection against threat of dismissal and safeguards to make sure the person returns to the same job or an equivalent one after the maternity leave.
Presenting his social package in Brussels, Vladimir Spidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities told journalists, “Our proposals to improve maternity leave will help women to combine work and family life, improving their and their family's quality of life.”
“Juggling work, family and private life is a huge challenge for millions of Europeans, men and women,” noted Spidla, adding, “But having children too often costs women their income and their job prospects. Only 65.5 percent of women with dependent children are in work, compared to 91.7 percent of men.”
Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP, Conservative leader in the European Parliament, argued, “The best social policy for Europe is one that creates opportunities and jobs. Member states have a primary responsibility to address social issues, where what we need is more delivery and less rhetoric.”
Critics have said small businesses will struggle to meet the costs and that national governments should decide on such matters, not the EU.
Germany and the Czech Republic, the home state of Commissioner Spidla already issued statements undermining the proposals.
Media reports quoted German Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen as saying they (the proposals) would "increase financial risks for employers who hire young women." She added the conditions would have a "boomerang" effect and prove to be a handicap for young women looking for jobs.
CTK news agency in a report cited Petr Necas, Czech Labour Minister as saying, "I'm strongly convinced that it is an unrealistic attempt and it does not respect differing conditions in various member states.”
British MEP Bushill-Matthews said, “Small businesses will struggle to afford this extra cost,” warning, “Ultimately some of the smallest businesses may think twice about employing young women through fear of them going on maternity leave.”
“The EU cannot solve all the ills of society with more one-size-fits-all legislation as determined by big business and big Trade Unions,” the Conservative European lawmaker added.
Commissioner Spidla, however had the opinion, “(The proposals) should also help increase women’s participation in the labour market and help face up to the challenges of demographic ageing: indeed countries with more women in employment also have higher birth rates.”
In a separate report “Childcare services in the EU,” the Commission reported that only five Member States -- Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain, -- had reached 33 percent of coverage for kids aged under three, as providing the minimum number of certified daycare spaces for children. There were five more Member States - Portugal, United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, Slovenia - approaching this target, it added.
While seven Member States (Finland, Italy, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia) had reached a coverage level of 16 to 26 percent, there were eight Member States (Greece, Hungary, Malta, Slovakia, Lithuania, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland) had less than 10 percent coverage.
The report concluded that with the ongoing “huge imbalance between men and women in the sharing of domestics and family responsibilities, leaving women - much more so than men - to opt for flexible working arrangements or even give up work altogether.”
At the end of the press conference, Katharina von Schnurbein, spokesperson for Commissioner Spidla announced that she was going on maternity leave from this Monday.
(Published in www.neurope.eu)
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