MEPs fuming over Commission’s abandonment of Maternity Leave Directive

MEPs pushed to save maternity leave earlier this year

Lawmakers pushed to save the Maternity Leave Directive earlier this year. [European Parliament/Flickr]

MEPs are fuming over the European Commission’s move yesterday (1 July) to abandon laws that would expand maternity leave to 18 weeks.

Earlier this year, Parliament had pushed to save the Maternity Leave Directive after seven years in deadlocked talks with the Commission and Council.

Portuguese MEP Inês Zuber (GUE/NGL), shadow rapporteur on the Directive, said, “The decision to withdraw this directive is scandalous and represents a huge backlash for women’s rights and gender equality in the EU.”

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans signalled in a letter to Parliament President Martin Schulz last month that the bill would be scrapped.

EURACTIV previously reported on Timmermans’ letter to Schulz, where he emphasised that “the Commission will not take a final decision on a withdrawal of the 2008 proposal without presenting ideas for a fresh start”.

>>Read: Timmermans: Deadlocked maternity leave extension will be ditched

British MEP Catherine Bearder, ALDE’s coordinator for the women’s and gender equality committee in Parliament, said, “The Commission must come forward with a new legislative proposal immediately.”

“The Parliament is prepared to work together and find agreement, but letting the Council off the hook is a cop out that must not be tolerated.”

Timmermans wrote to Schulz last month that “there has been no convergence with the Council”.

The timeline on a new maternity leave deal is unclear.

The Commission said in a statement that the withdrawal of the directive will be effective once there’s a roadmap for new plans. But it isn’t clear if that will mean a proposal for new legislation or an informal announcement.

A Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV on Wednesday that there is no precise date set for when the withdrawal will go into effect. The spokesperson said that the executive’s roadmap will be published this month.

>>Read: MEPs’ last attempt to save maternity leave extension

British conservative MEP Julie Girling: We've been calling for the withdrawal of this burdensome and costly proposal since 2010, and we're glad that the European Commission has seen sense. We do not need EU diktats telling new mums that they should be staying at home for 20 weeks. The UK has a progressive approach to parental leave, meaning mums and dads like to share out their leave as they see fit."

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) General Secretary Bernadette Ségol: "EU Governments have let down women and their families by their frankly embarrassing failure over seven years to improve maternity leave.”
“The ETUC will be pressing for an ambitious and coherent package for gender equality. It should include legal initiatives on paternity as well as maternity leave and other measures for the reconciliation of work and family life. Increasing women’s participation in the labour market can be only achieved by investing in gender equality and not by driving down women’s rights.”
European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Secretary General Joanna Maycock: "It sends a very bad message to women and men in Europe about how much the EU can do to support working women and families in their everyday struggle for a decent work-life balance."

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 (though the Commission would not be able to enforce this).

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.

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