For the first time, the EU Committee in charge of the Directive on maternity leave discussed the Working document of the responsible parliamentary rapporteur Edite Estrela (MEP Socialist Group). The discussion primarily focussed on the minimum duration of maternity leave, the amount of remuneration and the prohibition against dismissal prior to and after pregnancy.
In October 2008, the European Commission presented a proposal for revising the Directive on maternity leave, whose aim is to improve the security and the health protection of pregnant employees, nursing mothers and breastfeeding employees. The proposal would bring changes in particular with respect to extending the minimum duration of maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks, to the principle of paying the full remuneration, to the determination of regulations concerning health and safety in the workplace and to the prohibition against dismissal. In the opinion of Edite Estrela, the proposal of the EU Commission does not go far enough, whether with regard to reducing the differences between men and women in the labour market or whether with regard to promoting an active and balanced compatibility of professional and private life.

The extension from 14 to 18 weeks maternity leave is regarded by Edite Estrela as a rather modest change. She could imagine an extension to 24 weeks, which is also recommended by the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. This is one of the most controversial points, even though most member states already provide for a maternity leave of 18 weeks. In Austria, maternity leave is 16 weeks.

The EU Commission recommends the payment of a full monthly remuneration during the maternity leave amounting to the last monthly salary or the average monthly remuneration. This, however, would not be mandatory as the member states are able to introduce an upper limit for such payments, which, however, may not under any circumstances be lower than the sick pay. This point is expressly welcomed by the parliamentary rapporteur and the other members of the Committee.

The change of the Directive also provides for the prohibition against dismissal during the period staring at the beginning of the pregnancy until six months after the maternity leave. According to Edite Estrela, this proposal too is not far-reaching enough. In her opinion, the period should be extended to one year, as employees in many cases will be forced to adjust to new working situations, for which they need time.

Many MEPs in the responsible Committee welcomed the proposals, however, commented on the fact that the issue of financing would probably play a decisive role in case of all improvements. From AK’s point of view, one can only agree, as the extension alone of the maternity protection period in Austria would result in significant extra costs for social security benefits, which in Austria are fully financed from social security contributions and salary-dependent public levies.

The timetable in the European Parliament plans to introduce the draft Directive during an Extraordinary Committee Meeting in Strasbourg on 9th March 2009. It will then become apparent whether it will in fact meet with such widespread approval as the Working document, which was presented by Edite Estrela today. The question, whether an agreement with the Council will be reached before the end of the legislative period of the European Parliament is still wide open. Everything is possible!

For further information:

Working documents for the revised Directive on maternity leave

AK position paper on the revised Directive on maternity leave