EU May Require Longer Maternity Leaves

Brussels plans to extend the minimum leave for new mothers from 14 to 18 weeks, while ensuring full salary

The European Commission intends to extend the minimum length of maternity leave from fourteen to eighteen continuous weeks, while ensuring a full salary.

"Longer leave would have a positive impact on the mother's health in general," the draft commission paper, seen by EUobserver, says, adding that full payment of wages or salary would prevent women from suffering financial losses during their time away from work.

Currently, the duration of maternity leave varies from fourteen weeks in Germany to 28 weeks in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with the possibility of extending it to 52 weeks in some countries.

A parent does not earn her or his full monthly salary during the entire time, however.

Brussels describes its proposal as a "modest increase, which respects what many member states have in place".

According to the plan, a mother would be obliged to take compulsory maternity leave of at least six weeks after childbirth. The remaining part could be taken before or after labour, depending on parents' own preference.

Additional leave would be granted in the case of premature childbirth, child hospitalised at birth, baby with disabilities and multiple births.

"This increase allows women to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, to have more time with their children, and to be able to breastfeed for a longer period," the commission argues in its draft proposal.

More rights

Mr Spidla's paper may see some changes before it reaches the college of all 27 commissioners next month.

Even if adopted, some EU capitals will likely be reluctant to allow the EU's executive body to meddle with their national social systems. The possible impact on state coffers could also play a role in member states opposed to the proposal.

Additionally, Brussels is seeking to boost mothers' protection at work by giving women the right to return to "the same job or to an equivalent post and terms and conditions," while it would be more difficult for an employer to dismiss them within one year of the end of maternity leave.

An employer would also be "obliged to consider" a mother's request to adapt her working patterns and hours to the new family situation.

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