Maternity protection is not “red tape”!
(7 July 2015) The Commissioner for Equality Vera Jourova announced on 1 July to withdraw the maternity leave proposal on the negotiation table since October 2008 increasing compulsory maternity leave to 18 weeks. Now, Mrs. Jourova you announce that you will table a fresh proposal in 2016 after you complied and endorsed your Vice-President’s “Better regulation” strategy by withdrawing this proposal. With this move you consider maternity leave as a regulatory and administrative burden. So how will you explain this to all working parents in Europe that are already struggling with reconciliation and worsened and precarious working conditions in an economic crisis that you might only act again in 2016? EPSU does not trust your hollow and vague announcements!
Women and the crisis
The crisis in Europe has affected women and men in different ways. Women’s employment insecurity, lower working hours, part-time work, and occupational segregation have often increased. Austerity and reform measures included cuts in wages in the public sector and a pressure to freeze statutory and collectively agreed minimum wages and the curtailment of rights to maternity and parental leave and benefits and limitations on collectively negotiated agreements on reconciliation and flexible working hours. Countries hit the hardest from the economic crisis have had the greatest difficulties in protecting women’s pay. And, in most countries no gender impact assessment has been carried out of austerity measures and wage cuts – the latter taken place against trade union’s fierce opposition.
Maternity protection is a matter of equal pay
The maternity leave proposal recommended that member states pay women their full salary during this leave period. A proposal that was supported by the trade union movement since it was tabled after an impact assessment from the Commission in 2007. It concluded that it was a useful option of extending the duration of maternity leave and increasing the payment was considered a proportionate way of improving the health and safety of women as well as allowing women to better reconcile their professional and family obligations, and fostering equal opportunities between women and men in the labour market and equal pay. This corresponds to the length of leave provided for in the ILO Maternity Protection Recommendation, adopted in 2000, and is intended to generally improve the health and safety of women giving birth to a child. This increase was designed to allow women to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, to have more time with their children, and to be able to breastfeed for a longer period.
Mrs. Jourova, act now for gender equality and equal pay!
Efforts to agree on minimum rules for paid maternity leave have triggered heated and divisive debates among EU member states. On 3 October 2008, the European Commission proposed increasing compulsory maternity leave to 18 weeks, of which six would have to be taken immediately after childbirth. It also recommended that member states pay women their full salary during this leave period.
The Womens' Rights Committee backed a report by Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela to increase minimum compulsory EU maternity leave to 20 weeks.
In June 2009, a coalition of centre-right and liberal MEPs had rejected Estrela's plans in a June vote in Strasbourg. Member states in the Council of Ministers were so opposed to the bill that it never reached even a first reading. Most European Union laws are debated by both Council and Parliament before negotiations between the two institutions. Those talks must end in an identical bill being backed by both before it can become law. Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, pledged to refocus the EU executive on the bigger political issues of the day and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or “regulatory burden”. Juncker nominated his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a new role watching over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.
Timmermans led a screening exercise into pending legislation as part of the "Better Regulation" strategy. He earmarked 80 bills for the axe but gave the Parliament and Council six months to find a breakthrough in their seven year impasse over maternity leave. On 1 July the Commissioner for Gender Equality announced that the proposal for a revised maternity leave directive will be definitely withdrawn.