Fifteen-year-old EU-wide rules on leave for working parents are set to be updated, following a 30 November decision by EU social affairs ministers. They gave their approval to new standards that had been agreed with social partners in June. The measures will increase the minimum allowance of parental leave and encourage more fathers to participate in family responsibilities.
Ministers approved an extension to minimum provisions for parental leave from three to four months. While many Member States already offer leave in excess of four months, the UK, Belgium and Portugal will need to upgrade national legislation in this regard. The law will not make any changes in terms of whether the parental leave is paid.
The new rules will furthermore require that the leave be granted individually to the father or mother. One month will not be transferable between the parents, a move primarily aimed at increasing fathers’ take-up of leave and participation in family responsibilities. Currently, it is not obligatory for at least some part of the parental leave to be transferable in all Member States.
The new rules will need to be implemented in national legislation by early 2012. It will apply not only to full-time employees, but also to parents who work part-time and to those who hold temporary or fixed-term contracts. The text contains safeguards against parents facing discrimination or redundancy because of their right to leave. It also recognises the diverse definitions of family that might exist in different Member States, for example according to their recognition of same-sex partnerships.
At their 30 November meeting, employment and social affairs ministers also reached a decision on so-called “assisting spouses”, partners of self-employed people who play an essential role in a family business. The vast majority of people in this classification are women. According to the agreement they will have a right to at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. This decision will need to be approved by the European Parliament before it takes effect. Changes to a separate "maternity leave Directive" - concerning in particular the health of pregnant woman and mothers - are also under discussion in the European Parliament.