Europe needs a modern maternity leave framework

Labour Party

Below is an editorial from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, which I am a member of, calling for the European Commission to halt its plan to withdraw the proposed maternity leave directive which has been blocked for the past four years. Last week, I wrote to the UK government on this issue, and called on them to get around the negotiating table.

Women’s rights are not toxic waste

“The European Commission has announced that it intends to scrap plans to revise the current European legislation on maternity leave. The reason given: the proposed text for a new Directive has been blocked for several years by the Council of Ministers. Women’s rights are therefore sharing the same fate as 80 other proposals being regulated under REFIT (the European Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme). This places them in the same category as the management of battery waste.

To us, European Socialists and Democrats, this is simply unacceptable. Under the current maternity leave legislation, which has been in place since 1992, women can take up to 14 weeks leave for the birth of a child (two of them mandatory) and member states are obliged to ensure that they receive ‘appropriate’ income during this period. In 2008, the European Commission wanted to strengthen the protection provided under the existing legislation so it proposed to extend the mandatory leave period to six weeks and the overall period to 18 weeks. This proposal was aimed at addressing a number of key challenges, including the EU’s commitment to achieving a 75% employment rate for women by 2020.

Unequal treatment at the time of pregnancy and maternity has long-lasting consequences for women’s future employment and pay. Time spent out of the labour market is a major driver behind the gender pay gap. On average, the gap in earnings between women and men in Europe stands at 16%. The disparity in pensions is even more striking at 39%. We know too that women have been hit hardest by the crisis and tend to be in more precarious employment than men.

This is why we are calling for greater flexibility for women returning to the labour market after pregnancy. It is absolutely crucial that pregnant and breastfeeding women are offered protection in the workplace. Europe needs a modern maternity leave framework that enables mothers, as well as fathers, to take care of their new-born children. At present, one in four EU member states offer no paternity leave and less than 1% of fathers take parental leave.

Allowing both parents to look after their children is an investment in Europe’s future. The proposed legislation will help women to reconcile work and family life and to play their role in our economic recovery. Women should not have to choose between a career and having children. The demographic time bomb facing our social protection systems ought to make this all the more obvious.

It is the democratic duty of all parties involved in the legislative process to engage with each other, yet the Council has so far refused to begin talks. We, along with other members of the European Parliament, have expressed our unreserved willingness to seek a compromise on the proposal. The solution is surely not to withdraw it entirely but to now begin negotiations in earnest.

Gianni Pittella, President of the Socialists and Democrats Group (S&D) at the European Parliament, Italy

Maria João Rodrigues, Vice-president of the S&D Group, Portugal

Sylvie Guillaume, Vice-president of the European Parliament, France

Iratxe García Pérez, president of the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Spain

Marie Arena, spokesperson of the S&D Group for women’s rights, rapporteur of the European Parliament on the maternity leave directive, Belgium

Zita Gurmai, president of the European Women’s Socialist Party, Hungary

S&D Members of the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality”