Maternity leave in Europe - your rights
How long can you stay at home after you have your baby? One month, two - a year?
How much do you get paid when you're on maternity leave?
And how much is your spouse involved? Well, depends on where you live…
Provisions for maternity leave are as diverse in Europe as our tastes in food. While women in Sweden get close to 480 days paid leave at 80 per cent of net salary pay, in countries like Germany, France or Italy it is just a matter of weeks.
Current UK rules give mothers a full year off, with just six weeks paid at 90 per cent of the mother’s average pay, followed by 33 weeks on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) of £124.88 a week (£128.73 from April 2011) - 55% higher than statutory sick pay. The remaining thirteen weeks of the materniy leave is unpaid.
Parental leave: What about daddy?
Views on involving fathers seem to differ even more from country to country. Nordic countries like Finland and Sweden have long introduced policies in support of both parents to create a culture of mutual responsibility that's aimed at helping people balance their work and family life. This is part of what is known as the "Nordic model".
Their European neighbours have struggled to introduce similar models and remain hesitant: France stands at 11 days within 4 months after birth, Slovenia allows 90 days, 15 of which have to be used during first 6 months and the Belgium give it's fathers 10 days paid leave. Other countries allow fathers only a few days of paid leave or even none as is the case in Austria and Germany.
A new law comes into force in the UK in April 2011, giving fathers the option to share a full 12 months of parental leave with the mother. The move gives mothers the chance to return to work earlier and enables the father to benefit from extended paternity leave of up to six months. The first three would be paid at statutory level (£128.73) and the final three would be unpaid.
The EU and maternity leave
Now the EU Parliament is about to vote on new common rules for maternity leave. Existing EU legislation passed in 1992 provides for a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave but without any binding measures on pay.
European legislation is subsidiary to national law but if minimum standards are set, these basic requirements are binding for national authorities and cannot be under matched in national legislation.
The new maternity leave directive proposed in the Estrela Report (so-called after its Portuguese MEP Rapporteur, Edite Estrela) would give mothers a minimum of 20 weeks leave at 100 per cent pay. It would also involve fathers giving them a right to two weeks paternity leave on full pay.
Originally intended to create minimum standards of support for parents, this new directive is now seen by many as going too far. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) remain split on whether or not to support the amendments to the 1992 regulations.
There are reasonable arguments for and against the proposed amendments. SoFeminine.co.uk highlights the most important in the debate.