[Brussels, 20 October 2010] The European Parliament today by a large majority passed a Resolution in favour of substantially increasing European minimum standards for maternity and paternity leave provisions. In what supporters are lauding a great victory for the women and men living in Europe, the Parliament approved an increase of maternity leave provisions from 14 weeks to 20 weeks and the introduction of two weeks leave for new fathers, both fully paid.
‘This is an incredibly important victory for parents, both mothers and fathers, as it will for the first time shift the costs of maternity from individual women to society as a whole’, says Brigitte Triems, President of the European Women’s Lobby. ‘It is also a sign that our representatives in the European Parliament take progress towards equality between women and men and the future of our societies seriously. We welcome the commitment in particular of those MEPs who championed the text, but also of the Parliament as a whole, which today showed that it is ready to take political decisions which may be unpopular in certain quarters but which in effect favour long-term gains in equality between women and men and socio-economic sustainability.’
The revision to the so-called ‘Maternity Leave Directive’ was first tabled in 2008. The duration of leave and the costs of remuneration have been highly controversial, in particular with British business groups, and the vote was expected to be very close. Earlier this year, the European Parliament’s Impact Assessment of the proposed legislation concluded that the investment for European economies was highly sound, with increases in women’s employment rates alone set to more than offset the costs.
‘If backed by European governments, this legislation will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of women across Europe’, explains EWL Secretary General, Myria Vassiliadou. ‘Sufficiently long leave allowances, pay and protection from dismissal upon return will ensure women do not have to sacrifice their careers in order to raise a family.’
Currently in Europe, women’s employment rates drop by more than 12% when they have children. The OECD found in 2006 that in countries where the maternity leave provisions are longest, female employment rates were also highest, with over 80% in Iceland and over 70% in Denmark and Sweden – well above the OECD average of 57%.
At a time of widespread concern about Europe’s ageing population and the costs of pensions, increasing women’s participation in the labour market as well as birth-rates has become paramount to economic sustainability. The member states with high female employment rates are also countries where fertility rates are higher.
‘The Members of the European Parliament have today sent a very strong message to our governments that priority must be given to long-term, equal and sustainable investments in Europe’s biggest resource: its people, women, men and children,’ said Ms. Triems. ‘We trust national governments will take note.’
Gender equality associations are also very pleased about provisions for paid paternity leave. According to Ms Vassiliadou, ‘Fathers not only have a right to be with their new-born children, but should also be encouraged to contribute equally to their care. Guaranteed and paid paternity leave is a step in the right direction towards an equal distribution of social rights and responsibilities between women and men.’
According to the legislative Resolution adopted today, fathers are provided with two weeks non-transferable leave at full pay. The first six weeks of maternity leave are also non-transferable, but a couple can request to share the remaining 14 weeks.