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Maternity and paternity leave in the EU
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Maternity Leave


Rapporteur Edite Estrela © MEP Estrela - Maternity Leave
Rapporteur Edite Estrela © MEP Estrela
An ageing society is a key challenge faced by all European countries. In the near future, our economies will feel the gap left behind by more people retiring than entering the workforce.

Because of this shortage in skilled workers, Europe faces dramatic loss of productivity and slow-down. 

On the other hand, millions of women remain outcast from full participation in the labour market working in part-time positions or not working at all - despite the fact that women have outnumbered men among university graduates. Measures to enhance female participation in the workforce are more than needed and have proven to be more than profitable. 

According to a Swedish report presented in 2009, European GDPs would rise almost 30% if female participation in the work force was fully realised and disadvantages like unequal pay were eliminated. The growth potential is as high as 35% in the UK, the Netherlands, Greece and Malta, the report concluded. 

Supporters of the new directive stress that the new rules are more of an economic imperative than measures to ensure gender equality in the labout market. 

While current research does not provide entirely conclusive evidence that maternity leave raises female participation in the labour market, there is evidence that shows there is a correlation between the two.

The OECD found in 2006 that in countries where the maternity leave provisions are the longest, female employment rates were also highest with over 80% in Iceland and over 70% in Denmark and Sweden -well above the OECD average of 57%.

"One only has to look at Scandinavia's experience to know that this is true.", says MEP Edite Estrela who is responsible for the new proposal. For her, the new directive should be seen principally as just one element of the adjustments to prepare the European labour market for a future with fewer young workers.

This has already been acknowledged by all member states in their  joint "Europe 2020 strategy" that envisages raising female labour participation from just below 60% now to 75% in 2020.

"The more generous leave schemes for women are, the less they feel that their working life is incompatible with having children. That is essential if we are to slow the ageing of our society.", says Estrela.

"And, in an ageing society, there is no option but to invest in leave arrangements that enable men and women to combine, and share, work and care for young and old members of their families." 

Myria Vassiliadou, EWL Secretary General agrees: "These provisions are an imperative to ensure human rights and gender equality, but they are equally an imperative to ensure Europe’s social and economic sustainability.

"With our ageing population, we simply cannot afford to exclude women from the labour market, and we cannot afford ever plummeting birth rates! Maternity, paternity and parental leave provisions are immediate investments in better, more equal societies, and long-term investments in healthy economies." 


Shila Meyer Behjat
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