Maternity leave: A man's right
The new directive aims to introduce a two weeks parental leave for fathers of new born.
This would be a novelty in many countries where fathers so far have been completely left out from after-birth leave schemes.
Supporters of these changes come prepared. Recent research has proved that paternity leave leads to fathers taking on more caring duties during their children's childhood.
This sharing of the responsibilities of child-rearing gives women more time to work; two weeks of paternity leave will probably raise female participation by much more than the 0.04% - an amount needed to cover the additional costs created by paternal leave.
Paternity leave would also have other advantages. It would reduce the care gap between genders. It would enable more women to rise to decision-making positions. And it would answer one of people's most basic urges – to stay as close as possible to their loved ones when they are in need.
"The European directive would send out an important message: Mothers are more than welcome in the labour market, and yes, fathers are invited to share the care for their children.", says MEP Antonyia Parvanova from Bulgaria. "The sooner we send out that message, the better. Even if we decide relatively quickly (by EU standards), these measures would not come into force before 2015. By then, the effects of an ageing society will be very evident."
In the UK, a law has already been passed that extends the two weeks of statutory parternity leave to up to six months when shared with the child's mother. The move, which comes into force in April 2011, will allow fathers to participate in their child's early years more fully and will also allow mothers who are higher earners to return to the workplace sooner.
David Pawley, HR director at Kenwood Delonghi, told the Guardian that he believed men would be reluctant to take six months off work for fear it might damage their promotion prospects. Other HR experts also suggested that only 2% of new fathers would take up a partial or unpaid paternity leave as many families could not afford to get by wih just the mother's income.
In the UK many women benefit from enhanced maternity leave packages from their employers but at present the same benefits are not offered to male employees. However, the recent Roca Alvarez v Sesa ruling at the European Court of Justice, , may well see employers extending these rights to male as well as female employees, making extended paternity leave a real possibility for many UK families.