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Maternity and paternity leave in the EU
Article in images

Maternity Leave Directive


Against longer maternity leave: British MEP Marina Yannakoudakis © Marina Yannakoudakis  - Maternity Leave Directive
Against longer maternity leave: British MEP Marina Yannakoudakis © Marina Yannakoudakis
As always money is the root cause of any opposition to plans that extent current maternity leave rights.

Defenders of existing minimum standards mostly fear an “explosion of costs” if maternity leave is extended to 20 weeks at full pay.  Their fear: Increasing the amount companies have to pay to employees who have just given birth will surely, in the current economic climate, put them off hiring women of childbearing years.

"The costs associated with this directive are enormous: €121 billion between now and 2030. We cannot afford it.", says Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis.

"If we pass these proposals, we will not only reduce the chances of young women getting a job, but will also add significant new costs to businesses and our already cash-strapped public services. We will reduce a woman's ability to choose the most appropriate maternity arrangements for herself. And we will encroach on the principle of subsidiarity, because there really is no case for forcing this through at a European level."  

The Parliaments vote has already been postponed once, after some parliamentarians called for a detailed study on the potential impact of the changes of the existing rules. But when the requested study was published, the Parliament seemed to be even more torn. 

The experts estimated that the new proposals could increase costs in Germany by €1.9 billion each year and in the UK by €1.7bn (although other sources suggest that these are underestimates). It posits less tangible benefits in improved child development and gender equality, but these are harder to measure.

But, say insiders, even the experts don't agree. The Brussels-based newspaper European Voice quoted one of them saying: “Each person was saying something different.”

And according to the European Women’s Lobby, the focus on employers is misleading: ‘In 24 out of 27 Member States, it is the state and not employers who takes on the costs of maternity leave provisions’, explains Director Brigitte Triems.

‘This is most certainly a worthwhile investment. European governments spent trillions of Euros in the last years rescuing banks, car and construction companies; the rescue scheme for UK banks alone cost taxpayers up to £850 billion.

'Investing in mothers and children costs far less and is investing in the future of society as a whole. This is exactly the right time to invest a comparably low amount of money to empower half of the current population – not to mention the next generation.’


Shila Meyer Behjat
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