On 20 October, the European Parliament voted with a large majority in favour of granting women workers the right to take at least 20 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, two more weeks than had been proposed by the Commission. MEPs also called for an entitlement to paid paternity leave of at least two weeks. These proposals can only become law with the approval of EU Member States.
Maternity leave provisions are a key part of EU commitments to achieving a balance between work and family life for women and men. In 2008, the European Commission proposed an update to existing legislation dating from 1992, including an extension of the minimum maternity leave period to 18 weeks. After extensive discussions, MEPs (led by rapporteur Edite Estrela) voted in favour of increasing this minimum to 20 weeks, firstly in the women''s rights committee in April 2009 and now in plenary.
While some MEPs felt paternal leave was outside the scope of this legislation, a majority voted in favour of two weeks of non-transferable leave for the mother''s partner. The aim is to encourage more fathers to share in child raising responsibilities.
The Commission proposal set out that employers would be obliged to prove that any dismissal of a mother within 6 months of maternity leave is not discriminatory. The Parliament went one step further, saying that dismissal should not be allowed from the time of the pregnancy to 6 months after maternity leave had ended. MEPs also said women should not be obliged to perform night work or work overtime during the ten weeks prior to childbirth and while they are breastfeeding.
The text will now be considered by the Council of Ministers, which represents the European Union''s 27 member states. Some countries are very likely to oppose the European Parliament''s position. The UK, Denmark and Germany, have already said that the increase to paid maternity leave would be too costly in the context of the economic downturn.