EWL News

Pregnancy and Maternity leave – Are women paying the price of the financial and economic crisis?

[Brussels, 31 August 2011] The EWL recently reported the case of a woman in Belgium who was rewarded six months pay when the Court ruled that she was discriminated against as a result of her pregnancy after her initial short term contract was not renewed. The article also highlighted the fact that the Belgian Institute for Equality between Women and Men had registered 42 complaints related to pregnancy/maternity in 2010 alone.

This information cohorts with the information collated in the context of the joint European Women Lobby (LEF)/Oxfam publication in 2010 on the impact of the recession on women’s poverty and social exclusion in the EU [1]. The joint policy report provides a snapshot of the impact of the recession on women and identifies areas where further gender analysis, research and data are necessary in order to gain full insight into the impact of the recession on women both in the labour-market and beyond. Based on the outcome of interviews with the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) member organisations, the report findings point to an increased precariousness of work and working conditions particularly impacting women, notably the dismissal of pregnant workers or workers on maternity leave, and the conversion of long term contracts into short/fixed term contracts, particularly when women return from maternity leave. Evidence from the report suggests that pregnant workers and those on or returning from maternity leave are particularly at risk of discrimination in the labour-market.

The Council of Ministers has not reached a position on the adopted position of the European Parliament [2] (EP) on the revision of the 1992 maternity leave Directive and we have every reason to believe that a position may not be forthcoming in the near future because of costs (the EP calls for full pay during 20 weeks leave – which is also the position of the EWL).

This can only beg the question: should women have to pay for the financial and economic crisis? The Women’s Rights Committee in the EP has prepared a written question [3] for an oral answer from the Council, in which it acknowledges the current financial crisis and asks the Council would it agree to a gradual implementation of the revised Directive by 2020, and to find a compromise on the levels of pay and duration. The Committee is also asking the Council for its position on paternity leave (as part of the revised Directive) and states that in order to achieve the 75% employment rate for women by 2020, measures to reconcile professional and private life will have to be proposed.

The EWL continues to closely monitor discussions on the revised Directive and will continue to lobby to ensure that women will not pay the price of the financial/economic crisis.

[1Oxfam International/European Women’s Lobby, Women’s poverty and social exclusion in the European Union at a time of recession – An Invisible Crisis? A GenderWorks paper, February 2010

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